Saitama: Paulinho has claimed that his year-long spell with FC Barcelona helped turn him into a better player, as the Brazilian midfielder prepares to spearhead Guangzhou Evergrande’s quest for an unprecedented third AFC Champions League title.
Following a disappointing period at Tottenham Hotspur, the 31-year-old resurrected his career during his first stint with Guangzhou, when he won the 2015 AFC Champions League, two Chinese Super League titles and earned a recall to the Brazilian national team.
Barcelona came calling and, during a year in Spain, Paulinho won the La Liga–Copa del Rey double before returning to Guangzhou after reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 with La Seleção.
Saitama: Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder Anderson Talisca insisted that winning the AFC Champions League is the reason he joined the two-time Continental champions as they prepare for the first leg of their semi-final against Urawa Red Diamonds on Wednesday.
When the 24-year-old Brazilian joined then Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande on loan from Turkish side Beskitas in June 2018, his new team had already been eliminated from that year's AFC Champions League competition.
As such, the 2019 edition became the exciting attacker's first taste of Continental action and he immediately took a liking to the tournament.
Continental challenges bring out the best in us, says Urawa's Makino
Saitama: Urawa Red Diamonds defender Tomoaki Makino believes that the 2019 AFC Champions League has seen the Saitama club raise their game to new heights, despite domestic woes, ahead of Wednesday's semi-final first leg against Guangzhou Evergrande.
Two-time Continental champions Urawa have endured an odd 2019 so far.
Torrid form in the J.League sees them hovering nervously close to the relegation zone, while they recently suffered a humiliating elimination in the Emperor's Cup against amateur side Honda FC.
Yet on the Continent, Urawa are echoing shades of their 2017-winning side. Progression from a tough Group G was followed by impressive wins over Ulsan Hyundai (Round of 16) and Shanghai SIPG (quarter-finals), both clubs that are flying high in their respective domestic leagues.
Kuala Lumpur: After 10 rounds of fixtures, the 2019 AFC Champions League semi-finals are upon us, with four Asian giants to continue their quests for Continental glory in the first legs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
First up, the 2011 winners Al Sadd of Qatar take on Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, followed by a pair of two-time champions in Urawa Red Diamonds and Guangzhou Evergrande meeting a day later. Ahead of the eagerly awaited clashes, here’s the-AFC.com’s five things to look out for.
Saitama: Cool-headed diligence will be the order of the day if Urawa Red Diamonds are to see off fellow two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande in the semi-finals of the 2019 AFC Champions League, believes Urawa midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa.
The teams face off in the first leg of their last four encounter at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Wednesday, with the Japanese side hoping to cast aside a poor run of domestic form to take an advantage into the return meeting in China PR later this month.