Eriksson: China are closing the gap

Shanghai SIPG head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson believes that the presence of two Chinese Super League sides in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League is a sign that the level of football in China is on a similar standing to other footballing giants of the region.

Eriksson’s Shanghai side are joined by Shandong Luneng in the last eight, with the two Chinese clubs both facing opposition from the Korea Republic in Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and FC Seoul respectively.

It’s Shanghai’s first time in the quarter-finals of the elite competition, and while Eriksson’s side may not have much experience at such a high level, the former England boss believes that the gap between China and the likes of Korea and Japan has closed.

“This is the first time that Shanghai SIPG have played in the Asian Champions League quarter-finals,” said the Swede.

“So far this season we’ve been doing well in this competition. Not only Elkeson, but also Kim Ju-Young and Sun Xiang are also very experienced in the Champions League but I hope experience won’t be decisive to the result.

“I admit that in the old days, there were big gaps between Chinese teams and other teams in the region such as Japanese teams, Korean or Australian teams. But Chinese football is on the right track and improving.

“For example, we have two Chinese teams in the quarter-finals as evidence of that. Also Guangzhou Evergrande have won the title twice, so Chinese teams are getting there and the so-called gap will disappear very soon.”

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s match, Eriksson has said he expects forward Wu Lei to come to the fore in the absence of two of Shanghai’s foreign stars.

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The Chinese Super League outfit will be without the services of Brazilian striker Hulk and Argentine playmaker Dario Conca for the crucial encounter due to injury, putting much of the goal-scoring pressure on Wu Lei.

The 24-year-old, who is Shanghai’s all-time top scorer, has proven his ability to step up at key moments, scoring a dramatic winner for Shanghai against FC Tokyo in the last 16, and Eriksson expects him to embrace the challenge against Jeonbuk.

“Wu Lei is a very big star in China and he’s very important to us, not only for this game but in every game,” said Eriksson.

“He is routinely one of the top-scoring Chinese players in the Super League over the last few years and he may well be again this year. We hope he will add some more goals for us tomorrow, too.

“While he is very important, all the players will have to stand up and perform well for us to get the result we need, and I am sure that will be the case.”

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