Lippi’s Guangzhou raise the bar in Asian football
Guangzhou Evergrande players before the start of their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich in Agadir on December 17, 2013
Guangzhou ended China's long wait for an Asian title in style as they swept through the AFC Champions League's closing stages before edging a tight, two-legged final against FC Seoul.
On the way were 6-1 and 8-1 aggregate wins in the quarter and semi-finals and 13 goals for tournament top-scorer Muriqui, part of Guangzhou's deadly South American attack along with Dario Conca and Elkeson.
Guangzhou's skill level and sheer entertainment value took the competition to a new level and finally gave Chinese fans a reason to celebrate after years of corruption and disappointment.
The team encapsulate Chinese football's recent history after they were relegated over a match-fixing scandal before returning to win three consecutive Super League titles along with China's first Asian trophy in 23 years.
Their challenge next year will be absorbing the loss of Conca, the hub of their attack who is returning to Fluminense despite becoming one of the world's best paid players when he arrived in China in 2011.
Lippi is also entering the last year of his contract and there is speculation he could be recruited to lead China's stuttering national team.
Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran all qualified for next year's World Cup in Brazil, while Jordan and New Zealand missed out when they were hammered by Uruguay and Mexico respectively in the play-offs.
Asian champions Japan, who include Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa and new AC Milan recruit Keisuke Honda, were buoyed when they drew against the Netherlands and beat Belgium 3-2 in friendlies last month.
Off the field, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) formally cut ties with ex-president Mohamed bin Hammam, who is under investigation for alleged corruption, by choosing his replacement.
Bahrain royal Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa won a landslide AFC election in May after shrugging off claims of vote-buying and even rights abuses related to his country's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Sri Lanka's former football chief Manilal Fernando, an ally of Hammam, received a life ban from football by world body FIFA for alleged corruption. He has promised to appeal.
And the dark stain of match-fixing proved hard to remove despite a crackdown in Singapore, where shadowy syndicates were linked to hundreds of rigged games worldwide.
Singaporean businessman Dan Tan, or Tan Seet Eng, was one of four suspects locked up in September under a law which allows indefinite detention without charge. Police said witnesses were reluctant to give evidence, fearing reprisals.
Despite the arrests, new match-fixing scandals surfaced in Australia and England, with the name of convicted Singaporean fixer Wilson Raj Perumal -- a purported ex-associate of Dan Tan's -- mentioned in both cases.
In the incident in England, two Singaporean men and two players were arrested and charged over match-fixing allegations relating to non-league football.
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