With four teams in the AFC Champions League, the Chinese Super League is one of the best represented domestic leagues on the continent. There are occasions where quantity does not equal quality, but in truth, this year all of the Chinese sides have a chance of not just reaching the knockout stages but competing for the ultimate prize.
Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai SIPG, Tianjin Quanjian and Shanghai Shenhua are all established with at least two points in their respective groups, so how will they fare on matchday three?
Shanghai SIPG vs Ulsan
Out of the Chinese contingent, Shanghai SIPG have made the most promising start to the competition with a 4-1 drubbing of Melbourne Victory and a narrow triumph over Kawasaki Frontale.
Last year Shanghai reached the semi-finals, but narrowly lost out to Urawa Red Diamonds, and Vitor Pereira’s side will be judged as one of the favourites, especially with the start that they have made to their group.
Yet Ulsan Hyundai will be a different animal. Their opponents are unbeaten, having collected four points from the first two matches. Even in their draw against Melbourne they still managed three goals.
The problem was that defensively the Australian side managed to rip Ulsan’s back-line apart in a consistent fashion, so if the likes of Oscar Elkeson and Hulk can continue their form from the 8-0 drubbing in the CSL, then it could become a long afternoon for Ulsan.
Guangzhou Evergrande vs Jeju United
For the reigning champions of the CSL, the start to this year’s AFC Champions League has been mixed, to say the least. Two draws against Taiwanese outfit Buriram United and Cerezo Osaka brought frustration and relief in their own ways, the former being bottom of the group and the latter currently top.
Now the Chinese side host Jeju United, and new boss Fabio Cannavaro will be hoping that his Brazilian starlets, Ricardo Goulart and Alan Carvalho can repeat the form that won the domestic title last season.
Only two years ago Guangzhou had lost to Barcelona in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup, after triumphing in the CL. To get anywhere near that again Cannavaro’s side must beat the South Korean runner’s up, and with the home advantage that looks likely.
Jeonbuk vs Tianjin Quanjian
Making their debut in the competition this year, Tianjin Quanjian have made a start that could propel them deep into the latter stages of the tournament if they can replicate the quality and consistency of their early performances.
After easing past Philippines outfit Ceres-Negros in the play-off round, they followed it up with a simple 3-0 victory over Hong Kong’s Kitchee and then even more impressively a 1-1 draw away to Japanese giants Kashiwa Reysol.
Yet even with Paulo Sousa as a boss, and the likes of Alexandre Pato, Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste in the team, their matchday three tie against Jeonbuk will prove the toughest test.
In their 6-0 win over lowly Kitchee, Jeonbuk proved that their squad is more than capable of the ruthlessness synonymous with past winners of this tournament and they will likely win the group.
So for Tianjin second place may be the target and if they could get a draw in Korea then Sousa will fly back with a faint smile to the famous industrial city.
Suwon Bluewings vs Shanghai Shenhua
Out of all the Chinese clubs participating in the tournament, there is no doubt that the biggest outsiders are Shanghai Shenhua, even though they started playing in the CL in 2002.
Last season they succumbed to defeat in the play-off round. In 2011, the most recent year they qualified for the group stages, the side failed to win a game. The last time Shenhua did? 2009.
But in all fairness, two draws to Sydney FC, and more astonishingly, Kashima Antlers, has now created a scenario where Shenhua are unbeaten, establishing a platform for them to reach the knockout stages.
If they are to do that then coach Wu Jingui will be hoping that the Colombian contingent of captain Giovanni Moreno and Fredy Guarin can inspire a run that fans in Shanghai will be praying occurs. It may be tough though.