Fabio Cannavaro's Guangzhou Evergrande face a critical five days
that could go a long way towards deciding who wins the Chinese
Super League's most closely contested title race in years.
The stakes could hardly be higher for the Italian World Cup
winner, as failure to steer Evergrande to an eighth successive
CSL crown would put his job under severe scrutiny after only a
year in charge.
With a third of the season left, Beijing Guoan lead the CSL two
points clear of Shanghai SIPG and three ahead of Evergrande, who
both have a game in hand.
Cannavaro's side host the capital club on Friday knowing they
could go top with victory, then travel to SIPG on Tuesday.
The title chase is too close to call but Evergrande have impetus
after dragging themselves back into contention thanks largely to
the July loan signings of Brazilian midfielders Paulinho, from
Barcelona, and Anderson Talisca, from Benfica.
Evergrande needed a 91st-minute winner to defeat mid-table
Shanghai Shenhua 2-1 in their last match and Cannavaro is
pleading for home fans -- so used to success, after dominating
the CSL for the best part of a decade -- to stay patient.
"The supporters hope to win every game 4-0 or 5-0," said the
former world player of the year, after Evergrande's last-gasp
"But fortunately we are still in the title race and have not been
left behind," Cannavaro added, praising the unity and will of his
- 'Hear a different voice' -
Cannavaro, Italy's captain and defensive stalwart in their 2006
World Cup victory, will hope that his domestic players do not
suffer a hangover from the international break.
Three of his men started China's drab 0-0 draw with Bahrain on
Monday, a hugely disappointing result which sparked another bout
of soul-searching about the under-achieving national side.
That followed a similarly demoralising 1-0 defeat to Qatar, but
Cannavaro said in the build-up that playing for China under his
fellow Italian coach Marcello Lippi would be beneficial for his
players -- "to hear a different voice other than mine".
Evergrande go into the clash with Guoan in rampaging form,
winning eight of their last nine CSL matches and averaging nearly
four goals per game.
Only Guoan have scored more goals this season but Roger Schmidt's
side are unconvincing at the back, suggesting that a goal-fest
could be in the offing for an anticipated crowd of about 50,000.
It is then off to Shanghai for Cannavaro's men and the visit to
SIPG, home of the expensive Brazilian duo Hulk and Oscar.
SIPG coach Vitor Pereira took over from his fellow Portuguese
national Andre Villas-Boas this season, vowing to do what the
former Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea manager failed to achieve --
win a trophy.
The CSL is Pereira's last chance after SIPG exited the Chinese FA
Cup and the Asian Champions League.
Like Cannavaro, Pereira has little room for further error.