AFC Champions League debutants Kitchee likely to feel full force of Chinese Super League sides ready to conquer Asia
Veteran Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan leads the Hong Kong champions as they face fellow first-timers Tianjin Quanjian, one of four CSL clubs this year
While the Hong Kong club is making their debut in the continent’s premier competition, they have one player who has experience of the Champions League.
New signing Diego Forlan has played in the Uefa Champions League for Manchester United, Villareal and Atletico Madrid plus he played in the AFC Champions League for Japanese J-League side Cerezo Osaka.
The 38-year-old scored two goals in the group stage of the 2014 competition and helped his side to the knockout stages.
Kitchee will be hoping that the Uruguayan’s goals can ensure the same fate for them this year, rather than replicating the first Hong Kong team to feature in the competition when Eastern got a solitary point from their six games last year.
It’s not going to be an easy task, though, as Tuesday’s first game (8pm kick-off) shows.
While their manager Fabio Cannavaro left to return to Guangzhou Evergrande, new boss Paulo Sousa can call on the same personnel – including the foreign trio of Alexandre Pato, Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste who will all get their first taste of the group stages after overcoming Philippine side Ceres-Negro in the play-offs.
Disaster struck last season for Shanghai Shenhua when they lost the play-offs to Brisbane Roar, but the Chinese FA Cup winners return to continental competition for the first time since 2011.
Star striker Obafemi Martins will play in his first Asian Champions League, after the Nigerian scored against rivals Shanghai SIPG in both legs of the cup final, while the club have also registered Colombian duo Fredy Guarin and Giovanni Moreno plus South Korea’s Kim Kee-hee.
One notable absentee is Carlos Tevez. The Argentine signing was a disaster on and off the pitch, and he is unlikely to be missed, unlike Demba Ba who also left the club this winter window.
Shanghai’s other team, Shanghai SIPG reached the semi-finals last season under Andre Villas-Boas and the hope is that new boss Vitor Pereira will lead them even further this time out.
To do that the incoming Portuguese manager will need good performances from Hulk – last season’s AFC Champions League top scorer – and his fellow Brazilians Oscar and the Chinese Super League’s all time topscoring foreigner and two-time Champions League winner with Guangzhou Evergrande Elkeson. SIPG’s overseas contingent is rounded out by Uzbekistan’s Odil Ahmedov.
Argentina’s Dario Conca, who won the trophy with Guangzhou Evergrande in 2013, missed the Champions League cut.
Evergrande, who lost to SIPG in the quarter-finals last year, will be looking to lift their third continental title this season and that is what is expected of returning boss Fabio Cannavaro. The Italian enters his second stint as manager with the visit of Thai side Buriram United on Wednesday (5pm kick off) in a group that also contains J-League outfit Cerezo Osaka and South Korea’s Jeju United.
Alan, Ricardo Goulart and new signing Nemanja Gudelj of Serbia, who arrives from. That means that Colombian striker Jackson Martinez misses out and after a season sidelined through injury he’ll likely move on, but not for the money that Evergrande splashed out on him.
The CSL sides are expected to perform but it will be interesting how the CSL sides keep their four foreigners fresh this season as they can only play three per game domestically.