Weather plays havoc with CSL rivals' Asian title hopes

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Luiz Felipe Scolari was left shaking his head and Andre Villas-Boas spoke of "a very bad trip" after rain and lightning hit their AFC Champions League quarterfinal preparations. 
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AFP

Barcelona's new signing, Brazil midfielder Paulinho, poses on the pitch during his official presentation, after signing a contract with the Catalan club at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on August 17, 2017. Paulinho moved from Guangzhou Evergrande, which was taking on Shanghai SIPG in the AFC Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Shanghai Stadium on August 22, 2017.

Luiz Felipe Scolari was left shaking his head yesterday and Andre Villas-Boas spoke of “a very bad trip” after rain and lightning disrupted their AFC Champions League quarterfinal preparations.

Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande is a slight favorite when it visits Villas-Boas’s Shanghai SIPG in the first leg of their all-Chinese clash today.

But both saw their build-ups thrown into disarray by bad weather that lashed parts of China.
Villas-Boas effectively conceded the Chinese Super League title to leader and reigning champion Evergrande following a 1-2 loss on Saturday at Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng.

Compounding his and SIPG’s misery ahead of what promises to be a defining week in their season, Villas-Boas revealed that the team’s flight back had been delayed because of lightning in Shanghai.

“We had a very bad trip returning from Guizhou, not only because of the result but because we had problems with the flights and we only got back at 4:30am,” said the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager.

“It’s not ideal preparation for this game, but we still have tonight and tomorrow to rest a bit.

“We are in a long, competitive run of fixtures and trips and hopefully we can be fresh for tomorrow.”

Villas-Boas, who will come under pressure if he fails to deliver silverware this season, wants to take at least a one-goal advantage back to southern China for the second leg next month against two-time AFC champion Evergrande.

Just as Villas-Boas was speaking a torrential downpour submerged Shanghai, scuppering Scolari’s well-laid training plans at the last minute.

The unamused Evergrande coach later ambled in 20 minutes early to a hastily rearranged press conference and repeatedly shook his head and put his head in his hands.

Asked what was troubling him, Scolari — another former Chelsea boss — insisted he was fine.

“We understand there was heavy rain in the stadium (where they were to train) so we just moved to another training field, no problem,” the Brazilian said, although his body language told a different story.

Unprecedented double

However, even without midfielder Paulinho, following his move to Barcelona, Scolari is confident of completing an unprecedented double in China and Asia.

No team has won the AFC Champions League three times since the current format emerged in 2002 but after success in 2013 and 2015, the big-spending Chinese powerhouse is in contention to become the first.

Already, Scolari is close to leading the club to a seventh successive CSL title. On Saturday, Guangzhou moved eight points clear of second-place SIPG with just seven games remaining.

Guangzhou has to deal with the absence of the influential Paulinho. The Brazilian international scored five goals in eight ACL games this year.

“We will miss Paulinho,” Scolari said, adding he hadn’t settled on a lineup. “After Paulinho’s departure and Huang Bowen’s injury our midfield faces challenges.”

The victor of this all-Chinese ACL quarterfinal will face Japanese opposition in the semifinal. No team from the J-League has reached the final since 2008, but that could change as Urawa Red Diamonds meet Kawasaki Frontale.

Urawa won the 2007 title, but Kawasaki has never progressed past the quarterfinal stage before.

The tournament is divided into two geographic zones until the final. In West Asia, the big game is between 2016 finalist al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabian giant al-Hilal.

The remaining quarterfinal features al-Ahli, also from Saudi Arabia, and Persepolis of Iran. The return legs will take place next month.


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