Champions League Preview: Number One Takes On Number Two In Asia

You saw Guangzhou-versus-Shanghai in the League and Guangzhou-versus-Shanghai in the CFA Cup but this one trumps them all.

The top two sides in China face off yet again but this time on the Asian front as Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande face off in the AFC Champions League. The second time the two sides are meeting inside a week, Shanghai can take heart from the fact they defeated Evergrande in the previous encounter last week.

The manner of that victory, coming from a goal down to take a 2-1 lead of the reigning Champions in the CFA Cup. Shanghai whose ultimate aim is to win the Champions League have a great chance to get into the final four and improve their chances of lifting Asia’s most prestigious trophy.

Guangzhou, of course, have already won this tournament twice back in 2013 and 2015. After a disappointing campaign last season, Guangzhou began this campaign with a wobble and only just snuck into the knockout stage. Guangzhou will definitely miss Paulinho but they have the firepower to beat any team in the tournament on their day.

Shanghai can also take positives from the fact they have already dispatched a fellow CSL team in Jiangsu Suning. Shanghai came through to beat Jiangsu 5-2 on aggregate. Shanghai, of course, have Hulk who has been firing on all cylinders in this competition and has already found the back of the net 6 times. Guangzhou relied on the away goals rule to get the better of Japanese side Kashima Antlers. Unlike Shanghai, Guangzhou will be without their joint top scorer in this competition after Paulinho completed his transfer to Barcelona. But Alan, who has scored as many goals as Paulinho (5) will be ready.

Oscar will be hitting full fitness after a stop-start eight weeks due to his ban in the domestic league. Shanghai’s Elkeson will also have a big part to play. Shanghai’s cohesiveness will be key to unlock the stubborn defense of their rivals.

This tie is all the more significant considering that the two sides are going head to head for the Chinese Championship as well. Shanghai who staring down the barrel after a disappointing defeat at the weekend left them a massive 8 points behind Evergrande. Passage to the semifinals could be the much-needed morale booster for Shanghai but a defeat here could render their campaign a failure despite the success.

For Evergrande, who have built up the huge lead mentioned above, have the chance to deliver the final blow to their rivals. Teams have often failed to comeback from situations like this (see Tottenham-Chelsea in the League and FA Cup) after losing.

In the other quarterfinal in the East section of the draw, Kawasaki Frontale take on Urawa Red Diamonds. The two Japanese sides finished at the top of their respective groups relegating the Chinese sides to second place.

It is going to be an intriguing affair in the showpiece Asian football event. Shanghai play Guangzhou and I can’t wait for the ball to be rolling come kickoff.