Evergrande awakens China's hunger for soccer glories
Updated: 2013-12-18 16:21
BEIJING - Guangzhou Evergrande have raised China's appetite for soccer glories despite a lopsided loss to Bayern Munich that followed the Asian champions' victory over the African winners in their Club World Cup debut.
Organized by world soccer body FIFA, the Club World Cup features six continental champions and the league winners from the hosts.
"This tournament is very important, very prestigious. It's not easy to qualify for it nor to win it," said Pep Guardiola, whose side beat Evergrande 3-0 in the semifinals on Tuesday night.
Never on the same par with the five-time UEFA champions and 22-time German Bundesliga winners, Evergrande weren't expected to outshine fellow champions in the annual event. It was Italian head coach Marcello Lippi who inflated the expectations.
"We're going to play against one of the best teams in the world. When you take on a team like this, out of 100 matches you lose 99 but you can win one and I hope that will be the next one. You never know," said the Italian before the World Cup.
Dario Conca, Evergrande's top player, said that they might "even pull off a big surprise" and could "go very far" after they won over African champions Al Ahly. But the miracle did not come.
To put it fairly, Evergrande did brilliantly in their first World Cup appearance.
In their opening game, Evergrande handed a 2-0 quarter-final defeat to eight-time African champions and five-time Club World Cup participants on Saturday when Elkeson and Dario Conca scored in the second half.
This was the first time for a Chinese club to appear in the world top club event. To qualify for it, Evergrande lifted China's first AFC Champions League title in 23 years on November 9.
In domestic action, Evergrande defended their Chinese Super League crown, becoming the first team to have won it for three straight times.
Although Lippi described the Asian victory as "a kind of confirmation to the football level of the whole country", the Guangzhou club are unable to change the fact that China remains in ninth place in Asia and is struggling around 100 in the world.
Pundits said Evergrande's high-investment model wasn't suitable for Chinese soccer.
"Evergrande model could not solve the problems in Chinese soccer and the top-level design might never be optimized by a single club," said Wei Di, former chief of the Chinese Football Association.
Jin Zhiyang, former coach of the Chinese national team, agreed: "Evergrande model is unable to save Chinese soccer, which needs a systematic construction, especially in the nurturing of young talent."
Zheng Zhi, Evergrande captain who was named as AFC Player of the Year last month, lauded Lippi as a master of inspiration who not only whipped up Guangzhou's desire for victory but also instilled a hunger in Chinese soccer.
Zheng is also the captain of the Chinese national team which includes 11 Evergrande players.
"We will use what we learned from Lippi to make the Chinese national side a much better team," Zheng said.
Evergrande will compete for third place on Saturday against Raja Casablanca or Atletico Mineiro.