DOHA: Lekhwiya coach Eric Gerets is optimistic his side can overturn a first-leg 2-0 deficit and qualify for the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League (ACL) when they take on Chinese champions Guanzhou Evergrande in the quarter-finals today.
The Heir Apparent Cup winners lost in China four weeks back, and Guangzhou Evergrande look poised to storm into the semi-finals for the first time this week.
Speaking ahead of the Qatar Stars League (QSL) launch last week, the Belgian said: “We are playing a good team. We are playing at home. If we can score the first goal quickly, I think everything is possible.”
He added: “We know it will be a difficult challenge but everything is possible.”
Their task has been complicated by the suspension of three players including captain Madjid Bougherra for accumulating two yellow cards.
“We played a bad game, a very bad game,” said the Belgian of the first leg in Tianhe Stadium last month. “We lost every ball in the construction phase and then you have to run after the ball and you get tired.
“The Guangzhou team is top level, they were 17 points ahead in their championship and we had not started our championship. I admit we played a bad game, but I know the 11 players who will start tomorrow will fight from the first minute to the last minute to get a miracle done,” said Gerets in a press conference yesterday.
Lekhwiya opened their QSL campaign with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Al Sailiyah on Friday, and are unbeaten at home in this year’s AFC Champions League.
Their opponents, Guangzhou were toppled by Saudi Arabia’s two-time winners Al Ittihad a year ago but they have returned stronger in their first full season under Lippi, whose coaching honours include the 2006 World Cup with Italy and 1996 European Champions League with Juventus.
Lippi’s men hold a 14-point lead in the Chinese Super League and have reached the domestic cup semi-finals -- as defending champions in both competitions -- as they also bid to secure China’s first Asian title since 1990.
Lippi will not allow complacency to stand between his team and a place in the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League.
Guangzhou stand on the verge of surpassing their run to the quarter-finals of last year’s competition, when they lost out to two-time champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
“As you all know, from the last eight onwards there’s a home game and there’s an away game and we’re only halfway there,” said Lippi. “But hopefully tomorrow we will be able to complete the win.
“I know tomorrow night our opponents will try everything to win but we will try our best also and we’ll try to do everything we can to reach the semi-finals.”
Guangzhou have been in Qatar since Saturday acclimatising to the desert heat and their Italian World Cup-winning coach is expected to name a full strength starting line-up despite giving several players final fitness tests on the morning of the game.
“We already experienced the heat last year, so the climate isn’t too much of a problem,” he said. “In the day, it’s hot but during the night it’s ok. In Guangzhou on some night’s it’s hotter than here.
“We have a few players with minor injuries but after our session in the morning we’ll decide who will play.”
In Thailand, former Racing Santander manager Alejandro Menendez will become the third coach to lead Buriram United in this year’s competition they attempt to recover from a 1-0 deficit against Iranian champions Esteghlal.
The remaining two quarter-finals are both intriguingly poised after 1-1 draws in the first legs.