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July 14, 2021

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Chinese teams fail to make the grade in ACL

Chinese teams have frequently been in the hunt for the Asian Champions League title over the last decade but none of the country’s biggest clubs have made it as far as the Round of 16 for this year’s competition.

Two-time winner Guangzhou FC and last season’s quarterfinalist Beijing Guo’an crashed out in the group phase, with only one point earned between them over 12 matches.

Shanghai Port, semifinalists in 2017 and Chinese champion a year later, never even made it to the group phase, eliminated in the playoff rounds by Kaya-Iloilo of the Philippines.

Last year’s Chinese Super League winner Jiangsu Suning was disbanded earlier in the year and Chinese FA Cup winner Shandong Taishan was excluded from the competition due to licensing issues.

Travel restrictions placed on teams traveling in and out of China amid the COVID-19 pandemic meant the clubs were not at full-strength for ACL matches.

Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai all sent inexperienced squads to biosecure hubs in Thailand and Uzbekistan where the competition was being played following concerns over potential clashes with the Chinese Super League schedule.

Guangzhou’s owner, property developer Evergrande, has invested heavily in its academy but the results in the Thai city of Buriram suggest the club is a long way from producing a stream of a talent capable of graduating to the first team.

Six defeats in games against Japan’s Cerezo Osaka, Port FC from Thailand and Hong Kong champion Kitchee left Guangzhou bottom of its group with no points and only one goal — scored by Port’s Thitawee Aksornsri — to its credit.

“We never lack the hunger for victory, but it’s also very difficult for the young players to compete against such experienced opponents,” said Guangzhou coach Liu Zhiyu during the tournament.

“But I keep telling them this experience is invaluable for their future career, so just take it as a lesson and don’t think too much about it.”

Beijing fared marginally better, picking up one point from its six games, which included a 2-3 loss to United City FC from the Philippines after taking an early two-goal lead.

A challenging schedule that saw teams play more experienced opponents six times in less than three weeks was difficult for squads where the majority of players were 21 or under.

Despite the losses, some lessons have been learned.

“In the beginning we had a lot of burdens in our minds and we were thinking a lot about how the games might go,” said Guangzhou midfielder Ruan Sai. “But in the end we’ve tried to focus on the matches themselves and nothing else. We’ve learned a lot of things in this tournament and this is definitely one of the most important.”

Teams from South Korea and Japan took seven of the eight places on offer in the second round that is scheduled to start in September. Defending champion Ulsan Hyundai from South Korea as well as Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale were dominant, winning six out of six games.


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