Chinese FA Cup success is Shanghai Shenhua's 'most important' - Poyet
Gus Poyet is hoping success in this year's Chinese FA Cup can salvage a difficult first season for him at the helm of Shanghai Shenhua.
Poyet was appointed as replacement for Gregorio Manzano by Shenhua in late November, but the club have not managed to build on last season's third-place finish in the Chinese Super League despite the high-profile signing of Carlos Tevez.
Shenhua are currently 11th in the standings with less than a third of the season remaining and well adrift from the qualifying places for next year's Asian Champions League. But the former Brighton and Sunderland manager believes victory in the knockout competition can ensure a difficult season ends on a high.
"It's a new and most important objective," the former Chelsea midfielder told ESPN FC. "Of course you can't give up in the league, not at all. We haven't done that, apart from in one game against Shandong that we changed the game dramatically. That was the only game, otherwise we played the strongest team that we had.
"I think that everybody knows that. I think we have a chance because everybody knows how important it is. It's not about pressure, it's about accepting that we need to finish the season very well."
Shenhua hold a 1-0 advantage over Shanghai Shenxin after the first leg of the semifinal of the competition and could face cross-city rivals in the final after Andre Villas-Boas' Shanghai SIPG side defeated league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 in their first meeting.
The second legs of the semifinals will be played on Sept. 29 with both legs of the final due to be played in November.
The winners of the Chinese FA Cup join the league champions in qualifying directly for the group phase of the Asian Champions League and Poyet has set his sights on qualifying for the competition after missing out this year.
He will be able to welcome back Fredy Guarin from injury as well as Qin Sheng, who has served a six-month suspension, while also hoping Tevez will have recovered from a long-standing calf problem to feature regularly in the latter stages of the season.
"I know and I'm convinced with the help of other players coming back like Fredy Guarin, Qin Sheng, who has been suspended six months but is back next week for the game against Shanghai SIPG, so it's coming together," he said.
"Then, I have no excuses. We have the best players in the best moment and I'm convinced we are going to win the cup. If we fail, then we are not good enough."
And Poyet is hoping that by qualifying for the Asian Champions League that Shenhua can make up for the disappointment of losing out in the playoffs for this year's competition at the hands of Australia's Brisbane Roar.
"It's all that we want," he said. "Everybody wants to get in the Champions League. Somebody said that the club, the directors, the management and the players put so much emphasis on the midweek games because it's so different to the local game.
"At home it's difficult, but in the Champions League it is an open game and it's a beautiful atmosphere so that's where everybody wants to be. We're no different.
"Then, of course, you need to be careful when you get into the Champions League. We lost to Brisbane -- and if we had played another 10 times we'd win eight, but we lost -- and it doesn't matter.
"Brisbane lost to one of the Japanese teams 6-0. Are you ready to play in the Champions League? Are you ready to accept that? I don't. I hate losing games like that, it hurts.
"It's important if you do qualify to be able to know the competition and how prepared you need to be in every single aspect, not just individually but especially as a team."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch