Wei Shihao targeting third title for Guangzhou
Kuala Lumpur: Guangzhou Evergrande FC’s rising star Wei Shihao is counting down the minutes to the return of the 2019 AFC Champions League as he hopes to help the two-time champions win a record third Continental title later this year.
The competition resumes in East Asia after a two-and-a-half month hiatus next week, with Guangzhou facing off against defending champions Kashima Antlers in a mouth-watering quarter-final clash that the China PR international is relishing.
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“Kashima Antlers are one of most successful J.League teams and they have won the most league titles,” he said of the eight-time Japanese champions. “They are also the defending champions in the AFC Champions League this season.
“It will be the third time that Guangzhou Evergrande play against Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League and I can’t wait for the kick-off any longer.”
Guangzhou are appearing in the quarter-finals for the sixth time in eight seasons and return to the last eight after missing out last year, when they were eliminated by fellow Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian in the Round of 16.
That was the second straight season Guangzhou had been eliminated by a Chinese side, with the seven-time CSL winners exiting at the hands of Shanghai SIPG in 2017, with Wei an unused SIPG substitute in both games.
But, having defeated Shandong Luneng in the Round of 16 this year to set up the meeting with Kashima next Wednesday, the 24-year-old knows he and his teammates cannot be complacent if they are to put up a serious challenge for the title the club won 2013 and 2015.
“The AFC Champions League represents the highest level of club competition in Asia and everyone knows that our road to the quarter-finals was not easy,” he said. “And Guangzhou Evergrande have been eliminated twice in past two years by Chinese teams in this competition.
“I promised our supporters that we would have a different situation this season and we have reached this stage. Guangzhou is a two-time winner of the AFC Champions League so our goal is to win this trophy again.
“All the teams which have qualified for this stage should be recognised as title contenders. Kashima Antlers and Urawa Red Diamonds were title winners in the last two seasons respectively. I played for Shanghai SIPG in 2017 and I know them very well. They have very capable foreign players and we should pay attention to every team still in the competition.”
As Wei stated, Evergrande’s road to the quarter-finals has not been straight forward. Guangzhou finished second in Group F to qualify for the knockout rounds, winning all three of their games at Tianhe Stadium but failed to pick up maximum points in any of their group games on the road. They were then taken to penalties by Shandong in a thrilling, bruising two-legged encounter before making it through to the quarter-finals.
Injuries to key players, too, have been an issue, forcing coach Fabio Cannavaro to field a succession of younger and less experienced players in important games. None of that, though, has stopped Guangzhou from not only reaching the last eight of the AFC Champions League but returning to the summit of the CSL.
“We suffered a lot of injuries in the first half of this season,” said Wei. “Fortunately we have an excellent medical and physiotherapy team. Also, our young players have shouldered the responsibility and we have been performing well so far.”
Wei is deep into his first season with Guangzhou, having joined after season-long spells with SIPG in 2017 and Beijing FC in 2018 and he is relishing the opportunity to work under Evergrande coach – and FIFA World Cup winner – Cannavaro.
“I’m satisfied with my debut season so far, but I strongly believe I can keep improving and contributing more for Guangzhou,” he says. “I feel like I’m at home at Guangzhou Evergrande. I really enjoy my life in Guangzhou and I think Guangzhou is the best team I’ve ever played in.
“Fabio was one of the most successful defenders in the world during his career. I have to say Guangzhou is the right place and the right time for me and Fabio is the right person to coach me. He always knows the right time to praise, to encourage or to criticise me.”
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