Football: Lippi's Guangzhou primed for last 16

Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande can ease into the last 16 with room to spare this week as they press their bid to become the AFC Champions League's first Chinese winners.

Guangzhou put four unanswered goals past Muangthong United a week ago and another win against the Thais could put them into the knock-out phase with two group games left, provided Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors beat Urawa Red Diamonds.

Lippi, who took Italy to victory in the 2006 World Cup, steered ambitious Guangzhou to the Chinese domestic double in his debut season last year but they could not do better than the quarter-finals in Asia's top club competition.

However, two emphatic home wins and an away draw against Jeonbuk, the 2006 champions, have made Guangzhou one of the tournament's top performers and primed them to qualify with little trouble from a tough Group F.

Only Japan's Kashiwa Reysol and Saudi side Al Ahli, who are both on a maximum three wins from three games, have amassed more points at the halfway stage, with qualification or elimination looming for several teams this week.

After Tuesday and Wednesday's games, six clubs could have secured their places in the last 16 or another six could be eliminated. Only the top two in each four-team group will reach next month's two-legged knock-out round.

With Argentine midfielder Dario Conca feeding a potent strikeforce featuring Brazil's Muriqui and Lucas Barrios, Guangzhou seem certain to progress as they bid to become China's first winners of the competition, now in its 11th year.

However Lippi, tipped as a potential successor to Jose Antonio Camacho as boss of China's struggling national team, remained guarded ahead of this week's difficult trip to Muangthong's Thunderdome Stadium in provincial Thailand.

"There are still many uncertainties regarding final qualification from the group," he said, according to the South China Morning Post.

"The next match will be a very tough away game," Lippi added. "It's always tough to play at another team's home."

Jeonbuk stunned Urawa 3-1 away last week and a second successive win against their fellow former Asian champions would solidify second spot for the Korean club in Group F, behind Guangzhou.

Japan's Kashiwa can progress with just a draw against Suwon Bluewings in Group H, if China's Guizhou Renhe fail to avenge last week's defeat to Central Coast Mariners of Australia.

Korean champions FC Seoul can qualify from Group E, but J-League winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima's Group G campaign will be over if they lose to Pohang Steelers and there is a winner in Beijing Guoan's game against Bunyodkor.

In West Asia, last year's runners-up Al Ahli need only a draw against Iran's Sepahan to go through, with Al Shabab and Esteghlal also capable of reaching the knock-out stages this week.

th/pdh