AFC Club of the Year: Guangzhou Evergrande
Kuala Lumpur: Guangzhou Evergrande’s historic AFC Champions League victory has earned the big-spending Chinese side the prestigious AFC Club Team of the Year.
Having emerged as the dominant force in Chinese football in recent years Guangzhou’s mission was to take the step up and become the continent’s top side and with the perfect blend of World Cup and UEFA Champions League-winning coach Marcello Lippi, a trio of sublimely talented South Americans and a raft of Chinese internationals as well as promising local talent they achieved their objective with aplomb.
After emerging top of Group F, which included former ACL champions Jeonbuk Motors and Urawa Reds, Guangzhou travelled to either side of the continent to defeat Australia’s Central Coast Mariners in the Round of 16 and Lekhwiya of Qatar in the last eight but it was in the semi-final that Guangzhou truly turned on the style with an awe-inspiring 8-1 aggregate win over Kashiwa Reysol.
The Chinese champions continued their momentum in the first leg of the final drawing 2-2 away from home with a FC Seoul side looking to become the fifth Korean side to claim the coveted trophy.
And with over 55,000 fans in the Tianhe Stadium as well as an average TV audience of over 30 million viewers in China alone – the highest in the country since the 2004 AFC Asian Cup final – the two sides played out a thrilling 1-1 draw in the second leg to become the first Chinese winners of the AFC Champions League since the reformat of Asian club football in 2003.
“It’s good to end the year as the winner of being the club of the year. It’s not only great for us as Guangzhou Evergrande but it’s an honour for the whole of China,” said Guangzhou Evergrande President Liu Yong Zhuo after receiving the award from AFC Vice President HRH Prince Abdullah Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah.
“This award is not the end. We are determined to progress further in the future,” continued Liu.