OSAKA (Reuters) – Luiz Felipe Scolari, his reputation battered back home in Brazil, showed he could still work the old magic when he led underdogs Guangzhou Evergrande to a spectacular comeback and a shock win 2-1 over America in the Club World Cup on Sunday.
Two of his substitutes were involved in Guangzhou’s equaliser with 10 minutes left while Scolari ranted from the touchline in familiar style, at one stage getting involved in a row with an America player.
Midfielder Paulinho, another Brazilian looking for redemption after a slump in his career, headed in the stoppage-time winner to earn a dream semi-final against Barcelona on Thursday.
Like former Brazil coach Scolari, Paulinho was involved in Brazil’s 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany after he came on in the second half of the match in Belo Horizonte.
His stock fell further after a poor season with Tottenham Hotspur which prompted the move to China.
“Paulinho was one of the most important players in the Asian Champions League,” Scolari told reporters. “He is the first to arrive at training and the last to leave; he trains when he is injured and in pain.”
Sanfrecce Hiroshima, champions of host nation Japan, followed Guangzhou through with an easy 3-0 win over African champions TP Mazembe.
Both matches were played as part of a double bill at Osaka’s Nagai stadium, one of several quirks in a competition which remains an oddball in the soccer calendar.
Barcelona will jet in on Monday for what for them is a slight diversion in a packed season while teams such as Guangzhou, TP Mazembe and South American champions River Plate regard it as the pinnacle of their year and possibly history.
Scolari has managed to blend a team of mainly Chinese players with a group of Brazilians which also includes former Manchester City and Real Madrid forward Robinho.
He was taken off at halftime and replaced by Zheng Long, who scored the equaliser in the 80th minute after the ball was laid off by Gao Lin, another Scolari substitute.
Paulinho then took advantage of a lapse in concentration by the America defence to grab the winner.
“We were horrible at the start of the second half and that is where the coach has to take some decisions,” said Scolari. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Today, it worked.”
America had taken the lead early in the second half when Oribe Peralta headed in from Dario Benedetto’s cross and they seemed on course for a comfortable win.
Instead, they added to the catalogue of recent failures in the tournament for Mexican clubs, who come from Latin America’s richest league.
“We lost concentration completely for five or 10 minutes, what I have seen is not good at all,” said America coach Ignacio Ambriz. “The players are grown-ups who have to assume their responsibilities.”
TP Mazembe became the only African team to reach the final five years ago but there was no hint of a repetition as they succumbed to Hiroshima
Tsukasa Shiotani, Kazuhiko Chiba and Takama Asano all took advantage of poor defending from the team from Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We were just not ready for this big competition and we made it too easy, I have to say,” said Mazembe coach Patrice Carteron.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; editing by Clare Fallon)