- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) - Big-spending Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande has made a shock change in its head coach position, replacing former World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro with a World Cup-winning coach in Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Cannavaro had led the club to the top of the Chinese Super League and into the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League but that was not enough to keep his job as the club announced on Thursday night that it was bringing in Scolari, who led Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, on a 2-1/2 year contract.

Cannavaro, who was handed a 10-month jail sentence - currently suspended at it is under appeal - in Italy after breaking a police seal surrounding his home, said goodbye to fans through his Twitter account just hours after the team’s 2-2 draw with Tianjin Teda.

“I announce that earlier today I have reached an agreement for the consensual resolution of the contract with Guangzhou Evergrande,” Cannavaro tweeted. “Thanks all the executives and all the players for the wonderful experience … leave the Team 1st in Super League and in the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League. Never Give Up!”

The former World Player of the Year Cannavaro replaced Marcello Lippi - the captain and coach respectively of Italy’s 2006 World Cup team - at Guangzhou Evergrande in December. Lippi won three Chinese league titles and one Asian Champions League crown in his 2-1/2 years in charge.

In his six months, Cannavaro, had been confronted with a long injury list. His team showed plenty of offensive firepower but there had been some concerns about the defensive organization; an area that the pragmatic Scolari is expected to address.

The club, which is bankrolled by a large real estate company and e-commerce group Ali Baba, has spent more than $120 million on players since 2010.

Under Lippi in 2014, Guangzhou signed two Italian internationals in Alessandro Diamanti and Alberto Gilardino. It also has four Brazilian players in the squad, and it is expected Scolari will be able to bring the best out of them.

Scolari has extensive experience in Asian football, with spells in Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. His last posting in the Asian confederation was not a success. He joined dominant Uzbek club Bunyodkor in 2009. While the 66 year-old led the rich club, which included 2002 World Player of the Year Rivaldo, to the Uzbek title, he was knocked out of the Asian Champions League at the quarterfinal stage.

Scolari resigned from Brazilian club Gremio in May after a poor start to the season. The former Chelsea coach will head overseas for the first time since the 2014 World Cup when he led Brazil, host and five-time champion, to the semifinals where it was humbled 7-1 by eventual winner Germany.

Cannavaro is not the only Guangzhou Evergrande coach to be replaced with the team on top of the league. In May 2012, the club’s Korean boss Lee Jang-soo was fired in favor of Lippi despite having brought he club out of the Chinese second tier and led it to the league title and the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League.

Fans may have been shocked by Cannavaro’s departure but Dejan Damjanovic, the star striker of Guangzhou’s biggest rival Beijing Guoan, believes that the ambitious Guangzhou will do anything it takes to maintain its dominance.

“I am not surprised at this news at all,” the Montenegrin international told Associated Press. “Guangzhou Evergrande is spending a lot of money every year. This is just one more big deal in this season but now they have an big name coach and with his experience the club is the biggest favorites for the title in the league and in the Asian Champions League, but we will see how he adapts to the Chinese Super League.”

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