The new season kicks off this evening the prestigious Asian Champions League, with the pick of the ties undoubtedly the game between two of the continent’s best supported sides, Guangzhou Evergrande and Urawa Reds.
Relatively speaking, Guangzhou are the new kids on the block, as this is only their second ACL campaign. They are facing established Asian heavyweights in the shape of ACL 2007 winners Urawa who enjoy fanatical support barely matched elsewhere in the continent. However, with a large home ticket demand and a small away ticket allocation, the 2006 J-League winners may have to do without much of a vocal backing.
On the field, Guangzhou look to have the edge, with players capable of dominating possession and/or producing moments of skill to turn the game at any given moment, such as the mercurial Dario Conca and exciting new signing Elkeson. Word coming from the Urawa camp is that they may be without two or three more experienced players who have ACL experience. Much of the new, young Urawa team don’t have ACL experience and last season’s counter-attacking style may come up blunt against a dominant Guangzhou set-up who will provide a stern test at the very least.
However, for the first game of the season and the visitors have been able to use the pre-season to prepare as a squad together, whilst much of the Guangzhou squad have been all across the globe on National Team duty. Indeed, with Evergrande providing 11 players to the China squad for their recent AFC cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia, this is something of a handicap for the Cantonese side. Not only this, but Chinese call-ups spent several weeks training with the national squad – something head coach Marcello Lippi complained about at length in the Chinese media recently.
With violent protests in China over Japan and some rocks in the sea still fresh in the memory, and Urawa being a Japanese team, no chances are being taken. Sina Sports reports that 7,000 police and 4,000 security personnel will be on duty at the game tonight.
On a personal note, I was introduced to Asian football when I lived near Urawa in Japan and spent many a good weekend following the Reds home and away. For Tuesday night’s game, I shall be sitting in the away end. However, before you scream “traitor”, my split loyalties will see me sitting with the Guangzhou fans in Japan. May the best team and fans prevail.
Tonight’s game kicks off at 20.00 hrs Beijing time and can be seen live on CCTV 5 and Guangdong Sports.