Tuesday, February 25, 2014, 08:46
Lippi aiming to depart in blaze of glory
By Agence France-Presse in Singapore

Guangzhou boss gunning for another Champions League title

Marcello Lippi is hoping to sign off by retaining the AFC Champions League title with Guangzhou Evergrande after breaking fans’ hearts by confirming he won’t return next season.

Since joining Guangzhou  in 2012, the World Cup-winning manager guided the club to an epochal victory in last year’s competition, on top of his two Chinese league titles and one FA Cup.

Deep-pocketed Guangzhou saw off FC Seoul in the two-legged Asian final to be crowned winner and end China’s 23-year wait for the continental title.

However, influential Argentine playmaker Dario Conca announced his departure shortly afterwards and last week news broke that Lippi won’t stay on after his contract expires this year.

Club president Liu Yongzhuo said the 65-year-old, who has not given details about his decision, resisted attempts to persuade him to stay because he was “tired”.

“We expressed our wish in December last year to extend his contract, but he did not give us the nod,” Liu told a media conference.

“We had an extremely long season in 2013. Our team started training in January and didn’t finish our obligation until four days before Christmas, so it was very stressful for the head coach,” he said.

Local media have linked Lippi with the Chinese national team, which will learn in early March whether it has qualified for next year’s Asian Cup in Australia.

Lippi has hired attacking midfielder and Italy international Alessandro Diamanti, 30, from Bologna to fill the void left by Conca.

Guangzhou will begin its Group G campaign at home on Wednesday against Australia’s Melbourne Victory.

In Group F, Beijing Guoan has strengthened by hiring Argentine Pablo Batalla from Turkey’s Bursaspor and fellow midfielder Ha Dae-sung from pool rival and 2013 runner-up FC Seoul.

FC Seoul, narrow loser to Guangzhou in last year’s final, will also have to cope with the loss of prolific Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic to China’s Jiangsu Sainty.

Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers debut in Group H, with Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh the only other newcomer.

Both Qatar’s Al Sadd and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea will play their first Champions League games this week.

Al Sadd will play Sepahan, which it beat in the 2011 quarters after the Iranian side had a 1-0 first leg win erased for fielding an ineligible player.

According to new Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rules, teams from West and East Asia will not meet until the two-legged final, scheduled for late October and early November.