TOP: Lekhwiya coach Eric Gerets (in blue) gives instructions to his players during a training session. LEFT: Gerets talks during a press conference. RIGHT: Guangzho Evergrande manager Marcello Lippi gestres during a press conference.
Guangzhou: Coach Eric Gerets insists Qatar’s Lekhwiya must be at their best to compete with China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in today’s AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Lekhwiya have arrived in China for their maiden appearance in the last eight of the AFC Champions League following just three outings in the pre-season Sheikh Jassim Cup last month with the Qatar Stars League (QSL) set to kick-off in in mid-September.
Reigning two-time Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou, meanwhile, are firmly in the midst of their domestic title defence and are currently 14 points clear at the top of the table and former Belgium international defender Gerets is well aware of the challenge this represents.
“They don’t have a weak point and we have to be at the top level to have a chance to go through. It is very important we play at our best level to have a good result,” said Gerets, who guided Lekhwiya to second spot in QSL last season.
“We are fresh, but we don’t have the experience of playing 10-15 games this season so it is an advantage for a team who has played a lot of games this season. We hope that the large crowd will be an extra motivation for my team as playing in front of a large crowd always provides extra motivation.
“We will try to have control of the game, and then when we control the game, we will look to take our chances at certain times to counterattack. We need to control the game against a team who are not only dangerous in attack, but also from midfield as well as in defence as they have two wide players who can attack,” he added.
Gerets is still hopeful of making a positive start to the tie ahead of the return fixture in Doha on September 18.
“We have tried to prepare as well as possible. We have had some problems, but we are happy to be in China and we are looking forward to a good game,” said Gerets.
He added: “We will be playing against the best team in China who have a 14 point advantage in the league, so for sure they are the best team in China. They have also played around 25 games in the league and AFC Champions League, while we are at the start of our league.”
Gerets will be without right-back Mohamed Musa due to injury, while striker Ali Afif is also unavailable.
Gerets’ opposite number Marcello Lippi has backed Brazilian import Elkeson to transfer his impeccable domestic goalscoring record onto the continental stage.
With Elkeson replacing Paraguay’s Lucas Barrios in Guangzhou’s squad for the knockout stages, Guangzhou are looking to surpass last year’s run to the last eight before their maiden continental campaign was ended by two-time champions Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia.
“I am confident that Elkeson can reproduce his form we have seen in the Chinese Super League to his international debut in the AFC Champions league and score goals for us,” said Lippi.
“We have reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League again but we are anxious ahead of the match. But we will aim to try our best to satisfy our fans and we will give our best.
“We are facing a team who are well trained and physically ready, but we will try our best,” he added. AGENCIES