AFC Champions League 2017

Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting ready to take on the mighty ‘Big Phil’ Scolari as Eastern make Champions League bow

Hongkonger prepares to become the first female coach in the Asian Champions League

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 10:52pm

The first test of Chan Yuen-ting’s assignment as the first female coach in the Asian Champions League couldn’t be much more difficult, considering she’s taking her Hong Kong club to big-spending Guangzhou Evergrande to play a team guided by World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

The 28-year-old Chan led Eastern to the Hong Kong Premier League title in 2016 and her reward is a first game in Asia against one of most famous coaches in the world and most powerful clubs on the continent.

“We will not be taking the game lightly,” Scolari said. “We are expecting a tough game and know that it is important to get off to a good start in this competition.”

As well as Scolari’s success with Guangzhou in the 2015 Asian Champions League, the club from southern China won the 2013 title under Marcello Lippi.

“I am happy to meet Scolari,” Chan said. “The Asian Champions League is a valuable opportunity for us to learn from opponents like Guangzhou and improve ourselves.”

“We will try very hard to show our quality,” Chan said. “From the beginning, we expected this. Every game will be very tough for us. We just need to improve and prepare for the games as well as we can.”

Guangzhou have won the last six Chinese Super League titles and despite a quiet transfer window, the club has asked its stars, who include Brazilians Paulinho and Ricardo Goulart, to win every competition it enters this season.

Evergrande Group chairman Hui Ka-yan announced that he expected his team to win all four trophies available this year.

“Guangzhou Evergrande needs to be ambitious in the 2017 season, setting their sights on four titles,” he said. “The Chinese Super League, Asian Champions League, CFA Cup and the Super Cup.”

With defending champions Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea barred from the tournament after a club scout was found guilty of bribing referees in the K-League in 2006, Guangzhou are the favourites to take the trophy for a third time. But there will be challenges.

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The team remains the only Chinese winner of the competition, but both Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning have ambitions.

Former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur coach Andres Villas Boas is now in charge of Shanghai and in January the club paid around $60 million to English Premier League giants Chelsea for Brazilian midfielder Oscar.

He links up with Hulk, the striker signed for a similar amount in June and another prolific Brazilian Elkeson, who scored in both the 2013 and 2015 finals for Guangzhou.

At the club’s season launch on February 13, Villas-Boas, who replaced Sven Goran-Eriksson as coach at the end of last season, was bullish.

I’ve promised the president that at the end of the season he would sleep with one trophy,” he said.

Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting ready for Guangzhou Evergrande AFC Champions League opener

“I hope that me and the players can give this special night to him at the end of the season. It’s really important for us to try to shorten the distance to the top, to be first, to be there winning trophies.”

Shanghai’s city rival Shanghai Shenhua had been expected to be preparing for the group stage, especially after making Argentine star Carlos Tevez reportedly the highest-paid player in January. Shenhua were disappointed, however, to lose at home in the play-off round to Brisbane Roar.

Australian teams are improving in this competition. In 2016, both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory reached the knockout stage for the first time. This year, 2014 winners Western Sydney Wanderers return to the continental stage, alongside Adelaide United and Brisbane.

South Korean teams have won the continental championship, in its various formats, 11 times, more than double their closest rival. FC Seoul, finalists in 2013 and semi-finalists in 2014 and 2016 are expected to do well.

Japan has failed to provide a finalist since 2008 when Gamba Osaka became champions. Osaka are one of the country’s four representatives this time along with Urawa Reds, winners in 2007, and Kashima Antlers, 2016 Fifa Club World Cup finalists.

With the 32 teams split into two geographic zones until the final, West Asia is guaranteed a chance at the trophy but since 2005, only once has the title left the eastern zone.

United Arab Emirates teams Al Ahli of Dubai and Al Ain have come close in recent years as have Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, and all three will be hoping to go all the way in 2017.