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Cannavaro: Lessons learnt must be put to good use

Guangzhou: Fabio Cannavaro called on Chinese football to learn from the work being done to develop talent in Japan after seeing his Guangzhou Evergrande side become the latest Chinese Super League club to exit the 2019 AFC Champions League at the hands of Urawa Red Diamonds.

Guangzhou’s quest for a third continental title came to an end on Wednesday when Shinzo Koroki’s second half header ensured Urawa added the Chinese Super League leaders’ scalp to that of Beijing FC and Shanghai SIPG.

Urawa eliminated Beijing in the group phase before defeating Shanghai in the quarter-finals and claimed their third Chinese victim at the Tianhe Stadium when they finished off a 3-0 aggregate win over Cannavaro’s team.

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“I think there didn’t use to be such a gap between Japanese and Chinese teams but the gap has become wider in the past 20 years,” said the Italian, who is the first coach to lead Guangzhou to the semi-finals of the competition since 2015.

“The Japanese have invested a lot of funds in cultivating football players in the past and they have taken the lead with that strategy."

Semi-final - 2nd Leg: Guangzhou Evergrande vs Urawa Red Diamonds

“But in our experience they have more advantages in terms of their physical condition, which could be seen today. Japanese players, when they are competing they are more engaged and focused and we can learn from them.

“In the past Chinese teams were as good as Japanese teams because Evergrande used to have the best players in China. However, now our team and our players are not as strong as them.”

Guangzhou have won the AFC Champions League twice – their first title came in 2013 - but had not advanced to the last four in the years following their most recent success in 2015. They remain the only Chinese club to have won the tournament since it was launched in 2002.

Cannavaro’s cause this season has not been helped by injuries to key players, with the former Tianjin Quanjian coach forced to field right winger Zhong Yihao at left-back against Urawa as the club continues to struggle to replace Li Xuepeng following his season-ending injury earlier in the year.

But while the team has had issues to overcome, the former Real Madrid and Juventus defender praised his players’ positive attitude and determination.

“It has been a pretty tough year for our club and there are many reasons,” he said. “One of them is that our key players, some of them have been injured and have had surgery and for the position they play it has been hard to find competent players to replace them."

“But despite all the difficulties we have shown our spirit and strong heart, especially if we look at the rounds we played against Daegu FC and against Kashima Antlers. Today we showed our spirit and strong heart.

“Maybe we don’t have the chance to be the winners of the AFC Champions League, but no matter what anyone else says our players have done a very good job.”

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