2018 AFC Champions League Preview: Opening day is here

The domestic season is still a few weeks away but the continental matches have been going on for a little while now. Both Tianjin Quanjian and Shanghai SIPG managed to work their way through their respective playoff matches meaning all four CSL teams will play in the group stages.

With reigning champions Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan not even qualified for this year’s edition after finishing 7th in last year’s J. League that means we will have a new Champion of Asia next fall. Perhaps it will be a CSL side?

Let’s take a look at who the Chinese sides are up against on the opening day.

Tianjin Quanjian:

Last season’s third-place team in the CSL makes their debut in Asia’s top competition, and they do so at home no less. They welcome Hong Kong champion Kitchee to the opening match. Kitchee won the Hong Kong Premier League by two points. The Hong Kong side will also make their debut in the group stage after falling just shy of qualification last year when they went out in the playoff round on penalties to Ulsan Hyundai from South Korea.

The other two teams in this Group E are South Korean champions Jeonbuk and Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol who also came through the playoffs.

Tianjian Quanjian – Kitchee kick-off: 13th February 20:00 local time (12:00 UK time)

Shanghai SIPG:

CSL’s second representative to come through the playoffs are last season’s runners-up Shanghai SIPG. Last season’s semi-finalist in this competition will look to make it one better this year and they start their campaign with a short trip across the water to Japan. Kawasaki Frontale are the first hurdle on the way to continental glory and last year’s J. League champion will be no easy feat. SIPG will hope that Hulk and Oscar can show why they are well paid and carry them through this group.

Also in this Group F are A-League team Melbourn Victory and South Korean FA Cup winner Ulsan Hyundai.

Kawasaki Frontale – Shanghai SIPG kick-off: 13th February 19:00 local time (10:00 UK time)

Guangzhou Evergrande:

Group G sees the CSL champion Guangzhou Evergrande come up against opposition that they must not take lightly at all. In this opening match they will play Thailand’s reigning champion Buriram United. The Thai side are perhaps the weakest on paper but they must not be underestimated, that could make them more dangerous than they should be. Brazilian Diogo is their dangerman and has a very impressive track record in the Thai league, having played 72 times for Buriram and scored a massive 67 goals.

The second match will see Japanese cup champion Cerezo Osaka take on K League runners-up Jeju United.

Guangzhou Evergrande – Buriram United kick-off: 14th February 17:00 local time (09:00 UK time)

Shanghai Shenhua:

In Group H last year’s CFA Cup champion Shanghai Shenhua will try to navigate through a difficult set of matches. Carlos Tevez is gone, but Obafemi Martins is still here and so is Giovanni Moreno and Fredy Guarin so the foreign legion is going strong. Like their city rivals SIPG they will travel to Japan, but Shenhua are going to the city of Kashima to play Kashima Antlers. The J. League runners-up have a player with plenty of experience from playing in Europe in their lineup. Former Schalke player Atsuto Uchida has returned to the club he played for between 2006 and 2010, and the right-back will surely use his familiar runs up and down the line that made him a regular in the Bundesliga side to make life hell for the opposition.

The other two sides in this group are Suwon Bluewings from South Korea and Australian A-League champions Sydney FC.

Kashima Antlers – Shanghai Shenhua kick-off: 14th February 19:00 local time (10:00 UK time)