Fabio Cannavaro plays down talk of Guangzhou Evergrande return

Fabio Cannavaro refused to address mounting speculation he will return to Guangzhou Evergrande as a replacement for Luiz Felipe Scolari as his Tianjin Quanjian side prepare to take on the seven-time champions on Saturday in the final round of this season's Chinese Super League.

Cannavaro was fired as Guangzhou coach in June 2015 just six months after he took over from Marcello Lippi at the club's helm, only to be replaced by Scolari following an indifferent run of form.

He has since won the China League One title with Tianjin and has led the club into the upper reaches of the Chinese Super League in their first season in the top flight, and a win on Saturday could clinch a top-three finish.

"Recently there have been a lot of rumours," the former Italy and Juventus defender said. "But it is not the right time now to consider this.

"People who know me would know that I take one battle at a time. It is too early to think about next year or what will happen after the match. Together we only have one target: win the game tomorrow.

"I know that people in Guangzhou have been very kind to me. My six months spent here left lots of memories, including those with the players. But for now I don't want to think about it, I want to win tomorrow."

Scolari has not signed an extension to his existing contract with the club he has led to three Chinese Super League titles and an AFC Champions League crown, and is expected to return to his native Brazil.

Carlo Ancelotti is among the high-profile coaches who have been linked with the position at China's most successful club, with sections of the Chinese media claiming the Italian will be officially appointed in the coming weeks.

But speculation Cannavaro will return to Guangzhou has mounted this week as he heads back to Tianhe Stadium for the first time since he was fired.

His team travel to Tianhe Stadium needing to win to keep their hopes of a top-three finish in this year's Chinese Super League alive and face a Guangzhou side that have already clinched yet another league title.

Tianjin are fourth in the standings and must win and hope Manuel Pellegrini's Hebei CFFC lose against Shandong Luneng to push a top-three finish their way and claim a place in next year's AFC Champions League.

Even if both sides win and Tianjin finish fourth, Cannavaro's side could still book a place in the preliminary rounds of next year's continental championship should Shanghai SIPG defeat Shanghai Shenhua in the final of the Chinese FA Cup later this month.

"It feels so different this time to be back at Tianhe Stadium," Cannavaro said. "My last time here for a press conference was a big turning point in my life, one of the most important experiences in my life. This time it is different, I am here with a team I built myself over one-and-a-half years and we gained the China League One title. This season we have managed to stay in the top five in the CSL.

"Tomorrow I am here representing the away team. My mission is to beat the home team here. The result will be decisive for our final ranking which is an important evaluation to our efforts over the entire season. Our opponent has already nailed down the CSL trophy and they must be in a very good mood. I hope I can reach our target too. I hope we can have a happy ending."