Here we go. Round two of the AFC Champions League. The question is this week, could Shanghai SIPG keep up their good form from the first matchday, how would Guangzhou Evergrande react from a disappointing opening draw, and was it possible Tianjin Quanjian could stay unbeaten?
Cerezo Osaka 0-0 Guangzhou Evergrande FC
It was perhaps surprising that Buriram United held the current Chinese Super League champions in the first round of the group stages. So it was expected that Fabio Cannavaro’s side would respond in style, even against an Oskaka eleven who triumphed over South Korean Jeju United on matchday one.
Yet it proved frustratingly difficult, with clear-cut chances few and far between. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Ricardo Goulart, who had performed so well previously, failed to link the channels, and with Alan isolated up-front the Japanese side’s back-line became untroubled.
Guangzhou are now placed third in their group, and will next go up against Jeju in the third round of matches on March 6.
Shanghai SIPG 4-1 Melbourne Victory
Wow. What a start for Shanghai SIPG. The club had finished in a respectable position in the CSL last season but needed the impetus to bridge the gap to Guangzhou at the top of the table, and the arrival of experienced European boss Vitor Perreira was meant to be that person.
The side only managed 48% possession yet when it came down to the finishing there was only one winner, with their Australian counterparts quickly blown out of the water and ultimately sent back on a plane south.
With the likes of Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson, and an implementation of a thriving and pulsating 4-3-3 formation, Shanghai exchanged the ball so quickly that the pace and intensity of the game became so great that it was mor when than if they would find the back of the net.
And in the 27th minute that sheer determination to move the ball through the channels proved dividends, with the home side winning a penalty and Hulk smashing the ball into the back of the net.
After Wu Lei had doubled Shanghai’s advantage before half-time, Melbourne boss Kevin Muscat must have thought that his team had to lower the hatches and keep the match alive within the first 15 minutes of the second half.
It didn’t go to script. In the end, Oscar joined the party, scored a brace himself, and even a consolation goal from the spot, from Besart Berisha in the 67th minute, was not enough.
Shanghai now top the group and next face South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai next month.
Kashiwa Reysol 1-1 Tianjin Quanjin
Travelling to Japan for their second round robin match, Tianjin Quanjin were looking to build on what was a steady 3-0 win over Hong Kong side Kitchee in the first match.
Yet the fact Kitchee had been obliterated 6-0 in their next game proved that this match was going to be the acid test that Paulo Sousa’s side would face.
And in truth, a point was a good result. Outplayed in regards to possession, with just 34% of the ball, it was vital for the CSL side to make sure that they could work the ball quickly through the midfield and use the width to stretch Kashiwa Reysol’s back-line.
So even after Cristiano da Silva had opened the scoring for the home side in the 52nd minute, Tianjin failed to give up and scored what could be one of the most important goals in the whole of the competition so far.
Alexandre Pato has lived for the tight and tense moments in his career, especially at AC Milan, and perhaps it wasn’t surprising then that it was his low strike in the 88th minute which drew the game level.
Against the run of the play at the time, it was a goal that keeps Tianjin top. They now face their toughest task of the group stage, with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors hitting form at a vital time.