Oct 23 (Reuters) - Guangzhou Evergrande are eyeing a breakthrough for Chinese soccer by becoming the country's first winner of the AFC Champions League, but their hopes of beating FC Seoul rest with a South American trio rather than local talent.
Brazilian strikers Elkeson and Muriqui and Argentine playmaker Dario Conca have been behind Guangzhou's run to a first continental final where they take on the South Korean champions away in the first leg on Saturday.
Muriqui is the tournament's top scorer with 13 goals in 12 games, Conca has eight, while Elkeson has four for Marcello Lippi's side who smashed Japan's Kashiwa Reysol 8-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals.
"I have been able to score a lot of goals this season due to the strong support from the rest of the team," a modest Muriqui told the South China Morning Post.
"Conca and Elkeson give me a lot of support, and together with all the local players, goals will come naturally.
"Conca and Elkeson came from the same league as me so we know how to play together when attacking, and we are also good friends and that makes it fun as well. But every one of the local players is excellent and, as football is a team sport, we cannot play if someone is missing."
The trio, who have scored 17 of the side's last 19 goals in the competition, add flair to a well drilled outfit full of tried and trusted Chinese internationals like former Celtic midfielder Zheng Zhi and defender Sun Xiang.
They crushed Qatar's Lekhwiya 6-1 over two legs in the last eight after easing past the Central Coast Mariners of Australia 5-1 in the last 16 and have already wrapped up a third consecutive Chinese Super League title.
Muriqui, though, wants continental glory to match the achievements of Chinese side Liaoning FC, who won the 1990 Asian Club Championship.
"I am aware of the history of Chinese clubs in this competition and I hope Guangzhou will ... win the championship," said the 27-year-old.
"If we became champions of Asia, it would be an extraordinary achievement for every player and it would be an amazing personal memory."
Their bid is helped by the Asian Football Confederation again tinkering with the format of the showpiece final, switching back to a two-legged final after two years of one-match finals played at the home ground of one of the teams.
The ploy an attempt to generate excitement around their showpiece which has also tried a one legged final in Tokyo in recent years.
Guangzhou are the favourites to lift the trophy and make Lippi the first coach to win both European and Asian Champions League titles, but victory in the South Korean capital will be a tough task with Seoul undefeated at home in this year's tournament.
"Our home record is really important. It is definitely true that we have played well at our home stadium and this is why the first match of the final is so important," Seoul's South Korean defender Kim Chi-woo said.
"We must not concede a goal and also, whenever we make a chance, we have to score. The most important thing is to win without conceding a goal."
Seoul will be without experienced fullback Cha Du-ri for the first leg of the final through suspension but he will be back for the return leg in China on Nov. 9.
Despite all the changes to the tournament's format South Korean side's have dominated and Seoul are looking to become the fourth winners in the last five years and book a place at the lucrative FIFA Club World Cup in December. (Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
- Sports & Recreation
- Dario Conca
- South China Morning Post