Brazilian boss Luiz Felipe Scolari has fixed his sights on more than just an opening victory as Guangzhou Evergrande begin their second FIFA Club World Cup campaign against Mexican giants Club America.
Two years ago at Morocco 2013, the Chinese champions finished fourth under the tutelage of Marcello Lippi. And while Lippi and Scolari are both FIFA World Cup™ and AFC Champions League winners, the Brazilian is hoping to surpass the Italian’s achievements on the global stage.
"Guangzhou should finish higher than we did last time around," said Scolari. “This is our target. We’re going to give everything we have in the competition, beginning with the meeting against our Mexican opponents on Sunday.”
Mixed memories While the game at Osaka’s Nagai Stadium represents a debut in the FIFA Club World Cup for the Host City as well as the experienced coach, the Brazilian has mixed memories of his record on Japanese soil.
While Ronaldo’s double to defeat Germany in the Final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ stands out, the Brazilian was beaten by both Ajax and Manchester United in Intercontinental Cup finals when he was coaching Gremio and Palmeiras respectively.
"Yes, it’s a fact that I lost twice in the Intercontinental Cup finals," he said after being quizzed by local journalists. "But I also won the FIFA World Cup in Japan. But at the moment I am solely focused on just one thing, beating Club America.
“I’m well aware that it will be difficult, but after winning the Chinese Super League and the AFC Champions League, we can dare to dream. I know that we can get past the first hurdle in this Club World Cup.”
Adding a little extra incentive to Sunday’s encounter for Scolari is that fact that victory over the CONCACAF champions would set up a semi-final with Barcelona at the scene of his greatest triumph in Yokohama.
Remarkable run The confidence which Scolari has in his team is not misplaced given his impressive record as coach of Guangzhou. Since he took over from Fabio Cannavaro in June, they have won 18 and drawn five of their 23 games in both domestic and continental competition.
Along the way, there have been some threats to the remarkable run, but the team have possessed the determination as well as the confidence to maintain their record. Added to that, midfielder Huang Bowen believes that the team are stronger at the back under the tutelage of the former defender.
“We are a more balanced side nowadays,” he said. “Under Lippi we were very much an attack-minded team, but Scolari has transformed us into a much more all-round team, capable of attacking and defending well.”
Stellar squad Guangzhou boast an impressive array of imported talent including Korea Republic defender Kim Younggwon as well as five Brazilian stars.
Former Tottenham Hotspur man Paulinho is at the heart of the team’s midfield, while Elkeson and Ricardo Goulart, who respectively earned the 2015 AFC Champions League Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot Awards, operate in advanced positions.
The Chinese champions will also be boosted by the presence of Robinho and Alan, both of whom were excluded from their AFC Champions League squad due to the tournament's restrictions on the number of overseas players.
Foreigners aside, Scolari is keen to talk up the ability of his local talent. “Our Chinese players are good and several of them would be able to play in European leagues,” continued the 67-year-old. “Just to name a few Feng Xiaoting, Zeng Cheng, Gao Lin, and of course our captain Zheng Zhi. Our team are more than capable of achieving a good result in Japan and they should believe in themselves.”