Sports / Soccer

Zheng confident Evergrande set to snare another crown

By China Daily (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-18 07:59

Guangzhou captain predicts home win over UAE squad

Captain Zheng Zhi believes 2013 winner Guangzhou Evergrande will lift its second AFC Champions League title in three years on Saturday at Tianhe Sport Centre despite sharing a scoreless draw in the first leg with Al Ahli from the United Arab Emirates earlier this month in Dubai.

Former AFC Player of the Year Zheng led Guangzhou to its fifth consecutive Chinese Super League title last month and the China captain has also been in fine form on the continent after scoring a crucial goal against Japan's Gamba Osaka in the semifinals of the AFC Champions League.

 Zheng confident Evergrande set to snare another crown

Captain Zheng Zhi (10) is a driving force behind Guangzhou Evergrande's stellar run in the AFC Champions League this year. Provided to China Daily

Zheng could have had his second goal of the 2015 tournament in the first leg at Rashid Stadium, but Al Ahli goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud stopped the midfielder's 25th-minute volley with a smart one-handed save as Guangzhou had to settle for a 0-0 result.

"That result from the first leg is an equal result and, although we didn't win, it is an acceptable one for us as it was an away match," said 35-year-old Zheng.

"All my teammates are still confident we will win the game in Guangzhou."

Zheng wore the captain's armband two years ago as Guangzhou lifted its maiden AFC Champions League crown to end China's 23-year wait for a continental title after Liaoning defeated Japan's Nissan FC to win the 1990 Asian Club Championship.

Guangzhou also drew the first leg of the 2013 final away to South Korea's FC Seoul before securing the result needed at home in the return meeting to win by away goals.

"The key thing is we still have the decisive game at our own stadium in order to win the tournament, and we will need to prepare very seriously," said Zheng, whose side will have Kim Young-gwon available after the Korean centerback missed the first leg due to suspension.

"There is no advantage for either team in terms of scoreline, so we have to prepare well to get the championship once again."

Guangzhou is unbeaten in its past 27 games in all competitions, stretching back to its defeat by South Korea's Seongnam FC in the round of 16 at the end of May.

Evergrande has yet to lose a game under Brazilian FIFA World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

And although it did lose at home to 2014 champion Western Sydney Wanderers in the group stage, Guangzhou has never lost a continental knockout stage game at Tianhe Sport Centre, although a tied score would be enough for Al Ahli to deny its third continental club title on away goals.

Pressure on Guangzhou

Al Ahli goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud insists the pressure is on Evergrande in Saturday's second leg.

Mahmoud replaced Majed Naser as Al Ahli's No 1 midway through the group stage and has been on the losing side in just one of the 10 subsequent continental games the 26-year-old has started for Cosmin Olaroiu's side.

The custodian claimed the latest of his three AFC Champions League shutouts in the first leg at Rashid Stadium earlier this month to deny Scolari's Guangzhou a potentially crucial away goal, with important saves on Zheng and substitute Yu Hanchao.

"I am happy that I made those saves; that's what I do, that's my job. The coach works with me a lot and helps me," said Mahmoud, who has earned a recall to the UAE national team after a two-year absence.

He has been on the squad for the past two joint qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

"Although we go into every match to win, at the same time playing at home in the first leg and not conceding, any goal is still good.

"I definitely think now the pressure is on Guangzhou for the second leg and we will look to take advantage of this because realistically we have nothing to lose, since Guangzhou didn't score an away goal.

"We have played in front of big crowds before and we are used to pressure, our main aim will be to score an away goal, especially after the work Cosmin has put in."

Romanian coach Olaroiu has already led Al Ahli to domestic glories after guiding the side to the league title in 2013-14 in addition to the UAE League Cup the same season and a pair of UAE Super Cups, but the 46-year-old's achievements in helping the Dubai club to a historic continental final could surpass those with a victory on Saturday.

(China Daily 11/18/2015 page23)

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