Guangzhou model a blueprint for sleeping giant China

Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:22am EST
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(Reuters) - Guangzhou Evergrande's AFC Champions League success shows sleeping soccer giants China are finally stirring amid a growing belief that a bright international future is no longer a distant dream.

Guangzhou became the first Chinese side to win Asia's premier club tournament when they edged FC Seoul on away goals after a 1-1 draw at home to the South Koreans on Saturday left the tie level at 3-3 on aggregate.

The victory was hailed throughout China, with fans and local government hailing the rare international soccer success by the world's most populous country.

"An important international trophy like this one is certainly a prize for all Chinese football," Guangzhou manager Marcello Lippi told reporters.

"The team has grown a lot ... and many of those players are in the national team. The hope is that this is also growth for Chinese football."

While China has emerged as an Olympic powerhouse, success in the world's favorite sport has proved a much tougher goal.

An opaque and powerful football bureaucracy, poor management, piecemeal youth training schemes and widespread underground betting rings have corroded the sport and restricted China to just one World Cup finals appearance and no Asian Cup success.

If the Chinese Football Association, on an anti-corruption drive since 2009, want to rectify that they need not look beyond Guangzhou, whose rise to continental champions comes almost four years after they were demoted to the second tier in China after a match-fixing scandal.

New owners came with a change of name to Evergrande and big investment brought in Brazilian striker Muriqui, top scorer in the Champions League this year, and a promotion was gained. Investment was also made into local soccer schools.   Continued...

China's Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi (front L) and player Zheng Zhi (front R) hold up the trophy after winning their final match of the AFC Champions' League against South Korea's FC Seoul at Tianhe stadium in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou November 9, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip