Arnautovic will power SIPG's title bid, says Yu Hai
Shanghai: Shanghai SIPG star Yu Hai has backed new signing Marko Arnautovic to play a starring role as Vitor Pereira’s side attempt to claim their first-ever AFC Champions League crown when the Chinese Super League champions’ challenge for the Continental championship resumes against Urawa Red Diamonds next week.
The Austria international signed for SIPG from Premier League side West Ham United in July and has had an immediate impact, scoring four times in six league games.
But his arrival – which saw Brazilian striker Elkeson return to Guangzhou Evergrande – has given Yu and his teammates a confidence and quality boost ahead of their AFC Champions League quarter-final meeting with the Japanese side.
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“Compared with Elkeson, I think Marko definitely is stronger,” Yu told the-AFC.com. “The reason is because he was playing in the English Premier League. He was a star player at West Ham United, he was a scoring machine there and it’s not easy to do that in the Premier League.
“Everybody can see he has a strong body, he’s strong on the ball and his individual skill and ability to play with the team are great. Also, his speed isn’t bad and that’s why I think our forward line is better since we changed players.
“We can’t deny that Elkeson is a fine player, and he scored a lot in the AFC Champions League and he is full of experience in this tournament, but he’s not our teammate now so we can only talk about our current teammates.”
SIPG renew their rivalry with Urawa in the AFC Champions League when they meet in Shanghai in the first leg of the quarter-finals on August 27, with the Chinese side gunning for revenge after losing out to the J.League club in the semi-finals two years ago.
Since that heartbreaking loss much has changed for Shanghai. Vitor Pereira replaced Andre Villas-Boas as head coach at the end of the 2017 season and in his first year in charge, the Portuguese led the team to the Chinese Super League crown - the club’s first-ever trophy in professional football.
That success has made SIPG a more resilient outfit, but Yu believes it is not the only reason for the team’s improvement.
“I don’t think winning the Chinese Super League trophy is the only reason our confidence has increased, there are other reasons too,” he said. “Our team cooperation is better, our technical level has improved and we have a better mentality. Also, of course we have had Marko Arnautovic come in and these are the reasons why our confidence has increased.”
The memories of their loss against Urawa – the Japanese side won 2-1 on aggregate to secure their spot in the 2017 final – will spur SIPG on to ensure they have no regrets when they take on the two-time champions in this year’s competition.
“Urawa are definitely a very strong competitor, and the reason we know that is because we were knocked out by them,” Yu said. “So this time when we meet them again we have to give 120 percent.
“What I remember most from two years ago was the second leg in Japan, the away game, when they scored from a corner, a header by Rafael Silva, and this memory is most upsetting for me. Because of this goal we lost the game.
“The whole team has seen video of Urawa playing and, from my point of view, Urawa are as strong as they were two years. But I want to say that we are better than two years ago. We are more mature as a team because we have more confidence in our game. As a player, I’m full of confidence going into this game.”
Victory would move SIPG one step closer to Continental glory, and for Yu winning the AFC Champions League is a major target.
“Until now we haven’t managed to put our hands on the AFC Champions League trophy but this is our greatest motivation,” he said. “I think the AFC Champions League is our next objective.”
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