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Shanghai SIPG coach Villas-Boas faces make-or-break moment in China

Shanghai (AFP) – Shanghai SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas faces a critical four weeks that will define his time in China, starting with the AFC Champions League semi-final first leg home to Urawa Red Diamonds on Wednesday.

Villas-Boas’s team, boasting the likes of the Brazilian internationals Hulk and Oscar, are in the hunt for the treble in the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager’s first season in China.

Shanghai squeezed into the last four of the continent’s premier club competition on penalties against Guangzhou Evergrande and are also battling Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men for the domestic cup and the Chinese Super League (CSL).

Despite that success Villas-Boas has been on a collision course with Asian and Chinese football authorities, hitting out at an array of perceived injustices and getting a two-game ban in June in the fall-out from an eight-match punishment dished out to Oscar.

If the 39-year-old was pleased at getting into the Champions League semis he did not show it, lashing out at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the referee and accusing Evergrande of staging a series of minor car accidents to delay his team’s arrival at the stadium in Guangzhou.

Evergrande declined to comment but the AFC are looking into Villas-Boas’s post-match comments.

For Villas-Boas, who arrived in China in November 2016 from Zenit St Petersburg, the next few games will decide whether a decent season becomes a very good one — and could dictate whether he is still in charge at Shanghai next season.

They are second in the CSL with four games left and have narrowed the gap to leaders and reigning champions Evergrande to four points.

Villas-Boas and his side are also still in China’s FA Cup and travel to Evergrande once more for the semi-final on Saturday holding a 2-1 lead from the first leg.

Before that, they host the Japanese side Urawa Reds hoping that their exceptional form at home — where they have not lost in 15 months in all competitions — will again be enough over two legs.

– ‘Difficult circumstances’ –

Villas-Boas made history in guiding Shanghai into the last four of the Champions League for the first time in their short history.

Success means a packed schedule and his players have had to negotiate two games a week.

“Most of them are used to these difficult circumstances,” Villas-Boas said prior to this month’s 6-1 mauling of Shanghai Shenhua, underlining how dangerous SIPG are at Shanghai Stadium.

Urawa Reds, Asian champions in 2007, have excelled in the competition this season but have not enjoyed anywhere near the same success in the J-League, where they are just above mid-table and on a poor run.

They dropped two more points at the weekend and Brazilian defender Mauricio Antonio warned: “We can’t afford to make the same sorts of mistakes over there. 

“But we have to go to China with confidence in our style of football. If we can do that, definitely we believe can go there and do a job.”

Urawa and Shanghai have already met this season in the Champions League in the group stages.

Shanghai are strong favourites on Wednesday but there was little between them earlier this season, with Villas-Boas’s side winning 3-2 in China but Urawa getting revenge with a 1-0 victory in the return. 

The other semi-final pits Iran’s Persepolis against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.

The first leg is on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.

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