Scolari led his native Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title

SEOUL: Luiz Felipe Scolari wants to become the first coach in history to win the World Cup and the Club World Cup and won’t complain if he happens to complete the double in Tashkent rather than the more glamorous surroundings of Chelsea in southwest London.

Scolari led his native Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title and is now preparing his Uzbek club Bunyodkor for the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League against Pohang Steelers of South Korea.

The winner of the ACL competition will represent the world’s most populace continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in December and could face European giant Barcelona.

Scolari was fired by Chelsea earlier this year but found solace with the ambitious and newly wealthy Central Asian club helped by the fact, according to British media speculation, that he is the highest-paid coach in the world with an annual salary of around $18 million.

Believing in the project

“I am here because I believe I can contribute to the growth of the Uzbek game,” Scolari said recently. “I also believe in this project.”

“Certainly, I would like Bunyodkor to win the continental title,” said Scolari, who took Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and the semifinal of the 2006 World Cup. “I think we will have equal chances of winning against Pohang Steelers.”

As well as the 2002 World Cup winning coach, Bunyodkor has recruited Rivaldo, a star player of that Brazilian squad and the 1999 World Player of the Year.

The former Barcelona star played a big part in Scolari’s decision to head to Tashkent.

“Rivaldo suggested it to me,” Scolari revealed. “He had already been here almost a year at the time. I already knew about the structure of the club and was fascinated by the ambition of the Bunyodkor chiefs. A project of this scale is a fantasy!”

Scolari’s arrival was anything but fantastic for Bunyodkor’s domestic rivals, especially Pakhtakor which has lost its best players to the new powerhouse.

Despite just squeezing through the group stage of the continental competition with eight points from six games, Bunyodkor has won 23 games out of 23 in the Uzbek league and enjoys a 19-point lead.

“Pohang have a Brazilian star, Denilson, in their squad and their coach Sergio Farias is well known, so we should take Pohang very seriously and not treat them like a usual rival,” Rivaldo said.

That would be wise as the Korean team has won eight and drawn four of its last 12 games in the K-League and on September 13 recorded the biggest win in the competition’s 26-year history by thrashing Jeju United 8-1.

Pohang also destroyed Australia’s Newcastle Jets 6-0 in the second round of the ACL and the two-time Asian champion is on course to score 100 goals in all competitions this season.

Like Bunyodkor, Pohang has a Brazilian coach but the team is very different.

“We have no stars but we have four championship stars on our shirt,” said Pohang coach Sergio Farias.

No regulars

Pohang has no regular starters in the South Korea national team but players such as Choi Hyo-jin and Hwang Jae-won have already proven their worth and young striker Yoo Chang-hyun is making a name for himself.

Fellow K-League club FC Seoul, coached by FIFA 2002 Coach Of The Year Senol Gunes, does have international stars with 20 year-old midfielder Ki Sung-yong to join Scottish giant Celtic in January in a deal worth $4 million. Seoul also has Kim Chi-woo and Montenegrin international striker Dejan Damjanovic.

In the quarterfinals the Seoul club takes on Umm Salal of Qatar — a team that has assembled an expensive Brazilian strike force of Magno Alves and Davi, who was signed from Nagoya Grampus in the summer.

Nagoya used the money to buy tall Australian forward Josh Kennedy and he will lead the line in an all-Japanese clash with Kawasaki Frontale.

In the other quarterfinal match, two-time champion Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia meets Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.

Al Ittihad is trying to put a smile back on the face of Saudi Arabian soccer after the nation was recently eliminated from qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

Star striker Naif Hazazi picked up a serious injury while on national team duty but the Jeddah club has arranged loan deals for Argentina striker Luciano Leguizamon and young Tunisia forward Amine Chermiti. Pahktakor was, until recently, Uzbekistan’s powerhouse but is struggling these days after losing its best players to Bunyodkor. . — AP

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