AFC Champions League win so important for Lippi

By Sanggyu Lim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Marcello Lippi tasted success in the world's most prestigious club competition, the European Champions League, with Juventus 17 years ago and the Italian says winning the Asian equivalent with Chinese side Guangzhou would be no less of an achievement.

Lippi, who also coached Italy to victory at the 2006 World Cup, has won back-to-back titles in the Chinese Super League and his side face FC Seoul in South Korea on Saturday in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final.

The 65-year-old told reporters in Seoul on Friday that he had watched his side grow since joining them in May last year and that he wanted to repay Chinese fans for their support.

"I give (the AFC Champions League) a lot of importance," said Lippi, who would be the first coach to win both the AFC and UEFA Champions League titles.

"Not only are we talking about the tournament, but also because I've been with this team for two years now and I've seen them psychologically and physically grow and the team is much more organised.

"I also appreciate a lot of the support that the fans give us back at home for any sort of tournament we take part in.

"I would give it a lot of importance to win this tournament. I won the UEFA Champions League and this would be at an equal level."

GREAT TRADITION

Lippi said there were many aspects to the AFC Champions League final that he had to get used to.

"This is my first time having to play the final over two games, so it's something different for me," said Lippi, adding that he was less than satisfied with the training facilities offered to his side in Seoul.

"It's the first time in 30 years of my career that I've had something like this happen to me," said Lippi, who joked that his team had to practice in their hotel lobby.

"It's my fifth final in the champions league, whether it's European or Asian and I've never had such a problem."

Guangzhou are the first Chinese side to make it to the final of the region's top club competition since 1998 when Dalian Wanda lost out to Korea's Pohang Steelers.

South Korean teams have a great record in the competition, appearing in the final for the last five years and winning three of the last four trophies.

"In the AFC Champions League Guangzhou have done very well and they have brought up the level of Asian club football," said FC Seoul coach Choi Yong-soo.

"But we have a great tradition and great team spirit and I'm sure we'll play well. I'm expecting a lot of support from our fans and hopefully that will push us towards a win tomorrow.

"K-League sides do well in the Champions League, we have very good players and coaches and when we aim to achieve something, we are confident of achieving that.

"The K-League is very strong in Asia and we have very good teams. Ahead of any game a little bit of pressure is a good thing, but we're comfortable."

The return leg in Guangzhou will be played on November 9.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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