Despite the Chinese Super League season still being off in the distance, the Asian Champions League begins in earnest today with the group stage matches and there are some interesting clashes in this opening round. For all four Chinese sides involved, this will be a good chance to get off on the right foot and earn some points, especially for the new managers in Beijing and Shandong. Last year the competition ended with a Chinese side holding the trophy, will we see a similar result this season?
Shandong Luneng vs. Buriram United
Kickoff – Tuesday, 15:30
The Thai champs travel to Jinan for an afternoon kickoff that gets the ACL started for Chinese sides as they take on Shandong Luneng. The Chinese league runners up will be looking to perform for their new manager Cuca, who led Atletico Mineiro to the South American ACL equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, in 2013. Buriram has been newly dominant in Thai football and have made their mark on the Asian stage, earning a birth into the knock out stage last season, they’ll be gunning for a result to get the ACL started off right. Cuca is certain not to underestimate the southeast Asian upstarts, but it will be interesting to see how his charges do in their first competitive match for the new manager. Despite these issues, Shandong should be too much for Buriram and should come out on top.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs. Beijing Guoan
Kickoff – Tuesday, 18:00
Speaking of new managers, its a similar situation in Beijing, where Gregorio Manzano has only joined the club a short time ago, but Beijing showed they were ready for continental football with an impressive win in their qualifying match against Chonburi. These two sides know a lot about each other, having been grouped together last year as well, with Beijing getting the upper hand, with a late 2-1 winner against the Japanese side in Beijing and a boring 0-0 draw that was just enough to see Beijing go on to the Round of 16 last year. Hiroshima, repeat Japanese champs, are looking for more this season after not winning a match last year and their combination of talented home grown and Korean players are sure to give Guoan fits. Though these sides have met before, the familiarity may not be there, as Beijing has undergone a number of changes to its roster since the sides last met. Guoan fans will be watching closely to see their new manager’s tactics and most would be more than satisfied with a point on the road.
Kawasaki Frontale vs. Guizhou Renhe
Kickoff – Wednesday, 19:00
Guizhou fell just short of getting out of the group stage last season and will be looking to do better this year as they open up on the road in Japan. Kawasaki finished third in the J League last year to punch their ticket to continental football, they will want to demonstrate they belong on such a large scale with a good opening performance. Neither side has a lot of ACL experience, this will only be the second time Guizhou has been in the competition while it will be Kawasaki’s fourth, though their last appearance was in 2010. This will be an important match in setting the pace for the group and deciding Guizhou’s fate, their Chinese Super Cup victory fresh in mind, it’s too close to call.
Guangzhou Evergrande vs. Melbourne Victory
Kickoff – Wednesday, 20:00
The Champions of Asia will begin their title defense at home against Aussie side Melbourne Victory tomorrow night. This will be the first chance for most to see the redesigned Evergrande after they lost Dario Conca at the end of last season, however the team has once again reloaded and should maintain their dominance, at least in this match. Melbourne, who finished third in the A League last season, qualified for the ACL after beating Thai side Muangthong United 2-1 in the play off. Despite being loaded with solid Australian talent, including a number of Australian national teamers and U23 squad members, the Aussie side is likely to be overwhelmed by Guangzhou’s roster as the the side makes a statement to open the competition.
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