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AFC Champions League

Shenhua in crunch ACL clash with Sydney tonight

Hoping to mastermind victory: Shenhua coach Xi Zhikang

It’s make or break time not only for Shenhua but also Sydney FC as both sides meet at Hongkou stadium tonight for a crucial Asian Champions League (ACL) match.

With three games played, both sides are on two points in ACL group H, each after two draws and a defeat so far. The two other sides in the group, Suwon of South Korea and Japanese Kashima Antlers are both on five points, so whoever loses the Shenhua v Sydney game tonight will be out of the ACL. A draw is of little use to either side.

The two sides met just two weeks ago down under in a hard-fought 1-1 draw (goals here, h/t to reader Jake), so each team knows each others’ strengths.

What’s interesting about this fixture is that Shenhua coach Xi Xhikang admitted on the AFC’s website that key danger men Feng Renliang and Duvier Riascos were benched against Shenzhen in order to rest them for tonight’s match. Previously, its never really been clear what kind of priority Shenhua have put into the ACL, their record in continental competition is far from impressive. They’ve qualified for the ACL five times since its inception in 2002, but only made it past the group stage once, in 2006, and then only because two teams withdrew from the group. It’s interesting then that Shenhua rested players in a Chinese Super League match, when they yet to win so far this season, in order to keep them fresh for the ACL.

Looking towards Sydney, it’s really quite a novelty for to have such a wealth of English language news to reference. Here’s a great preview of the game, and the Sydney Morning Herald has something more feature-y.

The match itself kicks off tonight at 8pm.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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