The AFC Champions League is back. With the winner guaranteed a place at the FIFA World Club Cup at the end of the year in the United Arab Emirates, the 46 teams involved from 20 associations will be desperate to claim the ultimate prize.
Given the qualification standings, four of these teams originate from the Chinese Super League: Tianjin Quanjian, Shanghai SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua. The question is, how did they get on and who were the star performers on matchday one?
Guangzhou Evergrande 1-1 Buriram United
Knocked out by their rivals Shanghai SIPG in the quarterfinals last year, Guangzhou had a point to prove. The reigning champions of the CSL, now under the leadership of Fabio Cannavaro, possess the talents of Alan Carvalho and Ricardo Goulart, and went into this continental competition as one of the front-runners on paper.
Drawn in a group with Cerezo Osaka, Jeju United and Buriram United, Guangzhou’s first match involved the latter, with the Taiwanese side travelling to the Tianhe stadium in Canton.
In truth, Guangzhou should have been worried. Buriram’s form going into the match was superb, having won their last four in all competitions. With a partisan 28,000 eager-eyed to will on their team, it was the home side who made the first impact on the match, with Goulart opening the scoring on 16 minutes.
Yet even though Guangzhou continued to pepper the goal, the Taiwanese outfit responded in style, Edgar Silva equalising just 12 minutes after the second half. The barrage of home pressure continued, but even with 26 shots and 66% possession they couldn’t find the net again, both sides settling for a point.
Tianjin Quanjian 3-0 Kitchee
Tianjin’s start to the AFC Champions League couldn’t have got off to a better start. It seems like they’ve got s spring to their step now, with the arrival of former Juventus and Benfica star, and Portuguese international, Paulo Sousa.
With the likes of Alexandre Pato and Anthony Modeste, it is safe to say Kitchee, even with a recent 7-0 win in Hong Kong’s domestic league, didn’t stand a chance. Even in a tight game.
Tianjin only managed four shots on target in the game, but the timing of the goals was critical to the momentum of the match. All were killers to Kitchee. All three in the space of seven frantic and manic first-half minutes.
With Modeste, a Paulinho own goal and Sun Ke finding the net, it was inevitable that Sousa would solidify the midfield. This was an important result to a side who never qualified for the competition last season. With Kashiwa Reysol and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors left in the group, the Chinese outfit will be confident that they can make the knockout stages,
Kawasaki 0-1 Shanghai SIPG
Wow. This was close to call. Kawasaki will have been kicking themselves, with the J-League champions squandering chances against a Shanghai side who had just 34% possession.
Shanghai had agonisingly lost out at the semi-final stage last year to another Japanese side and eventual winners, Urawa Red Diamonds, and now faced another acid test in their first match of the AFC Champions League this season.
With Eduardo and Neto controlling the tempo of the midfield and attack, Kawasaki’s passing was fluid from the beginning of the match, and it didn’t take long for the crowd to sense belief that their team could essentially suffocate Shanghai’s channels and dominate the ball.
Unfortunately for the J-League team, they did that, but Shanghai, under the stewardship of Porto manager Vitor Pereira, stunned the partisan supporters with a flash of brilliance from Elkeson in 23 minutes.
After that the game opened up but missed opportunities plagued Kawasaki and in the end Shanghai, under constant late pressure, held on for a crucial opening win. Can they go one better this year and reach the final? Time will tell.