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February 13, 2018

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Cannavaro, Oscar lead Chinese ACL assault

GUANGZHOU Evergrande coach Fabio Cannavaro and Shanghai SIPG’s record signing Oscar will spearhead a four-pronged Chinese assault when the 2018 AFC Champions League group phase begins this week.

Evergrande, Asian champion in 2013 and 2015, has Cannavaro back at the helm for the second time and opens its campaign at home to Thailand’s Buriram United tomorrow in Group G.

Oscar, a 60-million euro (US$73.6 million) signing a year ago, is looking for a first trophy with SIPG after it crashed out in the semifinals last season under Andre Villas-Boas, having beaten Evergrande in the quarterfinals.

Villas-Boas has been replaced at SIPG by fellow Portuguese Vitor Pereira who has vowed to win a trophy and gets the first test of his management away to Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, which reached the quarterfinals last season, today.

“The opening match is particularly important if we want to qualify for the knockout stage, so we have to prepare well,” said Kawasaki’s Yu Kobayashi, who netted six goals in the ACL last season.

“Shanghai have Oscar and Hulk, who are experienced, high-quality players.”

Joining them in Group F are South Korea’s Ulsan which opens with a long journey south to Melbourne Victory in Australia.

Cannavaro resigned at Tianjin Quanjian just days after steering it into the ACL for the first time.

Tianjin has a new Portuguese coach in Paulo Sousa who is already beginning to like what he is seeing from Cannavaro’s high-profile French recruit Anthony Modeste, who scored both goals to beat Ceres Negros of the Philippines 2-0 in a playoff to reach the group phase.

Sousa’s side will begin at home to Hong Kong debutante Kitchee, which has signed 38-year-old former Manchester United and Uruguay striker Diego Forlan to bolster its challenge.

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, minus expensive misfit Carlos Tevez who has returned to Argentina, completes the Chinese quartet with Wu Jingui in charge for its first group match since 2011, having replaced Gus Poyet in September.

But it faces a tough baptism away to Japan’s Kashima Antlers in Group H which also sees Sydney FC host Suwon Bluewings, who will field new signing Dejan Damjanovic up front after snaring the 36-year-old K-League goal machine from FC Seoul last month.

For the second year running there will be no defending champion taking part. Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds failed to qualify despite beating Saudi Arabia’s al-Hilal in November’s two-legged final.

And last season the 2016 winner Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors was kicked out of the ACL for its part in a match-fixing, scouting and bribery scandal, though it returns this year after serving its ban.

The tournament will feature Monday games in the Western region, which will remain separated from the Eastern region until the final.

Al-Hilal and UAE’s al-Ain have come closest to breaking the East’s stranglehold on the trophy in recent times — the sides finished runners-up in 2017 and 2016, respectively — and they face off in one of the clashes of the round in Group D in Riyadh today.

Abu Dhabi’s al-Jazira, fresh from hosting the FIFA Club World Cup in December, welcomes Qatar’s al-Gharafa which will have former Real Madrid and Inter Milan midfielder Wesley Sneijder, 33, making his ACL debut.


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