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Third time lucky? ACL preview: Evergrande vs Jeonbuk

When Guangzhou Evergrande’s players take up their positions on the Tianhe sod this evening, they will be facing an Korean opponent becoming almost as familiar to them as any of their CSL rivals. For an improbable third consecutive year, Jeonbuk Motors have been drawn into the same Champions League group as the Chinese top dogs, with none of the four meetings so far having produced a home win. So, can the Cantonese club fight their way to victory at Tianhe this year? We’ll look back at the previous encounters before discussing who we can expect the main protagonists on the pitch to be this time around.

2012

The scorers in Guangzhou's 5-1 win in Jeonju celebrate.

The scorers in Guangzhou’s 5-1 win in Jeonju celebrate.

The initial contest between the two sides in Jeonju just over two years ago yielded a shock result that showed Asia the Chinese debutants meant business. In the first round of the group stage, they ripped into the previous year’s finalists from the start and ran out 5-1 winners, Cleo and Conca getting a brace each and Muriqui rounding out the rout.

It didn’t quite set the pattern. Tianhe witnessed a rare home defeat in the fifth round return fixture when two injury-time goals from all-time K-League top scorer Lee Dong-Gook grabbed top place in the group for his side. However the combination a fortnight later of a home loss at the hands of Kashiwa Reysol and Conca’s last minute winner in Buriram saw them finish in third and dumped out of the competition.

2013

Muriqui hails the away support after equalising in 2013.

Muriqui hails the away support after equalising in 2013.

Evergrande went one down to an excellent Kim Jung-Woo strike when the sides played in Korea last March, but Muriqui equalised in a second half team performance that probably should have brought them the three points. 1-1 was how it finished, and by the time they met in Guangzhou in the final game of the group stage, the hosts had already qualified.

Jeonbuk needed just a point to render Urawa Red Diamond’s result against Muangthong United irrelevant, so there was almost no attacking intent to be seen, the visitors having just one shot on target all evening. Guangzhou huffed and puffed, but looked every inch a team with no reason to push themselves, and a scoreless draw was the predictable result.

The Koreans were knocked out by their nemesis Kashiwa again in the next round, losing 5-2 on aggregate. Guangzhou went on to beat the Japanese side 8-1 over two semi-final games en route to their maiden continental triumph.

2014 – Jeonbuk Motors

Lee Seung-Gi, Lee Dong-Gook, and Han Kyo-Won after the captain scored against Melbourne Victory

Jeonbuk’s Lee Seung-Gi, Lee Dong-Gook, and Han Kyo-Won celebrate a goal against Melbourne Victory last week.

Both teams have the same record so far this year, with two wins in the domestic league and four points in Asia. The hectic early season schedule for both has led to plenty of rotation – the Jeonju side have used 22 players so far in just four games – which makes it difficult to anticipate just how the teams will line up.

However the four Jeonbuk players who have scored two each in 2014 can be considered likely to appear. From midfield, no. 15 Jung Hyuk was the aforementioned Korean sole shooter when the teams last met and has scored in both league outings this year, while no. 11 Lee Seung-Gi managed a brace against Yokohama F-Marinos and no. 10 Leonardo has scored one in each competition.

Club captain Lee Dong-Gook knocked in both goals as his team drew 2-2 away to Melbourne Victory last week, so even though the ex-Middlesbrough flop is now 34 years old, his no.20 shirt should still be watched carefully up front. At least one of the offensive winter signings, young no. 7 Han Kyo-Won and Brazilian no. 9 Kaio, should be expected to start too, as can highly rated young international defender Kim Kee-Hee wearing no. 4.

2014 – Guangzhou Evergrande

Diamanti celebrates

New Evergrande signing Alessandro Diamanti

Guangzhou have fielded four fewer players so far this year than this evening’s opponents (not including the reserves run-out in the Super Cup), and their line-up is substantially more predictable. No. 28 Kim Young-Gwon and no. 10 Zheng Zhi were rested from the squad that faced Harbin at the weekend after each playing three matches in three different countries over the previous ten days and should return here.

The attacking foreigner trio can also be expected to feature, with last year’s MVP for the competition, no. 11 Muriqui, no doubt eager to open his account for the season after a difficult start. The only real questions are whether no. 6 Feng Xiaoting or no. 3 Mei Fang will be selected in defense, and if Lippi plays no. 23 Diamanti (top scorer with four goals so far) in the advanced midfield Conca role or up front, as seems to suit him better. If the latter, no. 37 Zhao Xuri or no. 2 Liao Lisheng will probably accompany Zheng and the increasingly influential no. 16 Huang Bowen in midfield; if not, a more attacking Chinese player can start.

2014 – The Verdict

It’s a tough one to call without having seen Jeonbuk since last year’s matches. However they improved as last season went on and have begun this one very well, and also now have an extra edge that they were without for the previous fixtures – legendary manager Choi Kang-Hee, under whose guidance they won the 2006 ACL and the 2009 and 2011 K-Leagues, has returned to the helm after an 18-month sojourn as manager of the South Korean national team. Evergrande haven’t been entirely convincing so far, so I think another draw and an extension of Jeonbuk’s undefeated record at Tianhe is most likely.  I’m going for 1-1.

Guangzhou Evergrande vs Jeonbuk Motors kicks off at 8:00pm, this Tuesday 18th March, at Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou.

Irish Guangzhou Evergrande fan, following them since I fortuitously found myself living next to Tianhe Stadium in 2011, reporting on them for Wild East Football since 2012.

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