Guangzhou R & F set for NPL Victoria friendlies

by Damir Kulas 0

Chinese Super League (CSL) side Guangzhou R & F will be touring Victoria next month for five pre-season friendly matches as part of their preparations for the upcoming campaign.

TCF understands that the Blue Lions will play friendly games against a number of local NPL clubs in addition to a behind-closed-doors friendly against one of the city’s two A-League clubs. It is not yet known whether the pre-season games against NPL opponents will be open to the public.

The Chinese club previously toured Australia two years ago where they played a handful of friendlies against NSW NPL sides including Bonnyrigg White Eagles, Sydney Olympic and Sydney United in addition to a practice match against the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Of particular interest to locals will be the presence of Guangzhou’s Australian striker Apostolos Giannou, who came through the youth ranks of both Oakleigh Cannons and South Melbourne.

Once capped by Greece, Melbourne-raised Giannou switched allegiances to feature for the Socceroos in 2016 and made five appearances for the national team under former coach Ange Postecoglou.

The 27-year-old endured a frustrating injury-restricted 2017 campaign, which saw him feature just seven times in the league, although he did end it on a good note by netting twice on the final day of the season against Tianjin Teda.

Owned by prominent Chinese property developers of the same name, the club is managed by former Yugoslavia international and Serbian football legend Dragan Stojkovic.

The 52-year-old made 84 national team appearances for the Plavi between 1983 and 2001, and featured in the 1990 and 1998 World Cups. He captained the Yugoslavs in the latter tournament and scored against Germany while also netting a game-winning double against Spain at Italia 90.

The former Yugoslav Footballer of the Year enjoys legendary status at former clubs Red Star Belgrade and Nagoya Grampus Eight which, in addition to his exceptional playing achievements, also includes stints of being club president at the former and Championship-winning manager at the latter.

In addition to his time in the Far East, Stojkovic spent four injury-plagued years at French giants Marseille in the early 1990s, winning the inaugural Champions League title in 1993 with the club two years after losing the European Cup final to former employers Red Star.

The ex-Hellas Verona attacking midfielder has also been mentioned as a potential Socceroos coach although he recently signed a multi-million-dollar contract extension to remain in China.

R & F have exceeded expectations in recent years, finishing 6th and 5th respectively under ‘Piksi’ despite having one of the lowest operating budgets in the competition.

The team’s star man is Israel striker Eran Zahavi, who last year won the CSL Golden Boot having netted 27 goals over the course of the season and reportedly earns $7 million per season.

Brazilian midfielders Junior Urso and Renatinho – formerly of J-League side Kawaski Frontale – are Guangzhou’s two other imports, with defender Jiang Zhipeng and veteran forward Xiao Zhi their two Chinese internationals.

Details for their upcoming Australian tour will be finalised and confirmed shortly.