AFC Champions League (East) contenders in town for continental football fiesta
With the AFC Champions League kick-off tomorrow, the first half-dozen clubs have arrived in the Qatari capital ready to take on the best the continent has to offer.
The first to arrive on Sunday morning, the 2016 ACL champions will be hoping they’re also among the last teams to leave Qatar when the competition finishes on December 19.
Fresh from wrapping up a fourth consecutive league title in Korea Republic, Jeonbuk will be looking to bounce back from a slow start to the competition, where they took just one point from their opening two matches.
Led by soon-to-be-outgoing head coach José Morais, Jeonbuk have plenty of time to acclimatise to the West Asian weather. They arrived a full week before their opening match against Shanghai SIPG on November 22.
Shanghai SIPG (CHN)
Shanghai SIPG’s galaxy of stars touched down in Doha, not that they would have been easily recognised as each player donned full head-to-toe protective gear.
One of the biggest names of all, star Brazilian forward Hulk, made his presence felt by adding his shirt number and signature to his PPE – potentially making for a rare memorabilia item in years to come – while Oscar looked right at home in what might be described as a unique away kit.
With their travel to Doha safely completed, SIPG will get down to business in their opening group stage match against Sydney FC on Thursday – nearly 10 months after their play-off round win Buriram United - in the first of six group stage matches in 16 days for the Chinese giants.
Shanghai Shenhua (CHN)
Joining SIPG were their city rivals Shanghai Shenhua, who also left nothing to chance when it came to keeping their players and staff protected.
Fresh from a seventh place finish in the Chinese Super League, the 2019 CFA Cup winners will be aiming, at the very least, to secure their first ACL win since way back in 2009, but a knockout stage berth will be of more interest to current head coach Choi Kang-hee.
Choi’s charges will be among the very first East Zone sides to get a taste of competitive action in Doha. They’ll face ACL newcomers Perth Glory on Wednesday.
Sydney FC (AUS)
Arriving just minutes after the two Shanghai outfits were Sydney FC, who will aim to parlay their Premiership-Championship double in Australia’s A-League into long-awaited success on the continental stage.
But while the Sky Blues tuned up for the month ahead with an impressive 3-0 win over the Australian U23 national team on Thursday, they arrived in Doha without starting goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, who has remained in Australia to be present for the birth of his child, and Socceroo defender Ryan McGowan, who reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 in Scotland last week.
Steve Corica’s side will resume their campaign against Shanghai SIPG on Thursday, having taken one point from the two Group H matches they played earlier in the year.
Perth Glory (AUS)
The last of the Sunday morning arrivals were Perth Glory who will finally resume their debut AFC Champions League campaign exactly nine months after it began with a 1-0 defeat in Tokyo.
While the Western Australians touched with a full squad, one of the most important arrivals was undoubtedly Spanish maestro and three-time Perth Glory Player of the Season Diego Castro, who is set to appear in club colours for the first time since March.
Under the tutelage of new coach and former Australian international Richard Garcia, Perth will get the East Zone restart underway when they face Shanghai Shenhua at Education City Stadium on Sunday.
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