Based along the South China Sea in the province of Guandong, Guangzhou Evergrande have risen from relative obscurity to become China's premier football club. The turning point came in 2009, when they became embroiled in a match-fixing scandal and were punished with relegation from the top flight. This turmoil prompted the Evergrande Real Estate Group to purchase the club and with significant levels of investment, the club has become a real powerhouse.
Achieving promotion at the first attempt, the club won their first ever League title in 2011 [although it is worth bearing in mind that the League was only formed in 1993] and have won every title since – five in a row. They have been famously coached by Italy’s 2006 World Cup boss Marcello Lippi for three of those successes and former Real Madrid defender Fabio Cannavaro, but are now under the guidance of the 2002 World Cup winner Luis Felipe 'Big Phil' Scolari.
Scolari is now coaching five of his fellow countrymen, with former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho and ex-Real Madrid, Manchester City and Milan attacker Robinho the standout names to an international audience.
Earlier this week Guangzhou defeated Mexican outfit America to reach the last four, matching their best-ever finish in 2013 – where they lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich and 3-2 to Brazilian side Atletico Minerio in the third-placed play-off. The Chinese club won this year's Asian Club Championship, following on from their 2013 success in the competition.
The winners of this tie will then face the victors of the other semi-final between Argentine giants River Plate and host country Japan's representatives, Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Sanfrecce have won three of the last four J-League titles, and have becomes Guangzhou's principle rivals for dominance in the region. Their 3-0 quarter final triumph over African champions TP Mazembe was somewhat of an upset, and now they believe that with a strong home crowd behind them, they have the chance of going all the way to the showpiece event.
Their opponents, River Plate, are aiming to become the first ever Argentine side to lift the trophy. They will be buoyed by their Copa Libertadores triumph, and their 3-0 win in Belo Horizonte against Brazilian hosts Cruzerio was outstanding and they will hope to draw on these parallels for their last four clash.
River's most experienced player is the diminutive Javier Saviola, who is one of a select group of players to represent both Real Madrid and Barcelona. The South American champions always dream of their shot against their European counterparts, but only three times have they triumphed in this trophy’s decider – Sao Paulo, Internacional and Corinthians eking out hard-fought 1-0 wins over Liverpool, Barcelona and Chelsea respectively.
Boca Juniors and Estudiantes are the only two Argentine outfits to reach the final, with the latter of whom taking Barcelona to extra time in 2009 before eventually succumbing to defeat.
Barcelona will fancy their chances of maintaining European sides' strong tradition in the tournament and using their vastly superior resources to add to their ever-expanding trophy cabinet, but will have to be on their guard to avoid some potential banana-skins on their journey into the great unknown.