This week saw the final qualifying round of the Asian Champions League (ACL). The only Japanese side that had to qualify for the group stage was FC Tokyo, and the team from the capital cruised through, seeing off a woeful Chonburi FC from Thailand 9-0. Here, we take a brief look at the opposition that awaits the J.League representatives in the their quest for continental silverware.
(Please bear in mind, this is just meant to be a very VERY bite-sized intro to the teams)
- FC Tokyo
- Jeonbuk Hyundai (Korea) – The reigning K-League champions have a good pedigree at this level, although they must still be raw after last year’s dramatic quarter final defeat at the hands of Gamba Osaka. The 2006 winners will hope to draw upon the experience of their legendary striker Lee Dong-gook and scheming Brazilian midfielder Leonardo.
- Jiangsu Suning (China) – Arguably the stars of the January transfer window worldwide, the cash-rich club, coached by ex-Romania international Dan Petrescu, signed Ramires from Chelsea before snatching Alex Teixeira from under the noses of Liverpool.
- Binh Duong (Vietnam) – The V.League champions for the last two years didn’t fare so well in last year’s competition, particularly away from home where they conceded eleven goals in three group games away from their Go Dau home.
- Sanfrecce Hiroshima
- FC Seoul (Korea) – The Korean FA Cup winners will be looking to go better than last year when they dumped out comprehensively by Gamba Osaka in the last 16. One player that might be familiar for casual Asian football watchers is Park Chu-young who had a disappointing spell at Arsenal after impressing for Monaco in Ligue Un.
- Buriram Utd (Thailand) – The team that play at the evocatively named “Thunder Castle” (although this has actually been superseded due to a naming rights deal – it is now called the iMobile Stadium) are three-time reigning Thai Premier League champions. Buriram came oh-so-close to progressing from last year’s group stage – eventually being the odd team out after three teams finished on 10 points in the group.
- Shandong Luneng (China) – Shandong squeaked by A-League side Adelaide Utd in the qualifying round, but will present a stern test for the other sides in this group. They can call upon the talents of Hao Junmin, Diego Tardelli & Argentine playmaker Walter Montillo, not to mention the 2015 Chinese Super League top scorer Aloisio.
- Gamba Osaka
- Melbourne Victory (Australia) – The side from Victoria finished as A.League champions in 2015. Powered by forward Besart Berisha and captain Carl Valeri, they will be looking to progress to the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in their history. 2016 will be the third time they’ll have locked horns with Gamba in ACL group action.
- Suwon Bluewings (Korea) – The K-League runners up in 2015 progressed to the last 16 of last year’s edition of the ACL, succumbing to Kashiwa Reysol on the away goals rule. One player to watch for the Bluewings is Yeom Ki-hun, who led the K-League in assists last year, garnering 17 through the season.
- Shanghai SIPG (China) – Sven Goran Eriksson’s men saw off Muangthong United in the qualifying round, and will be looking to the scarily abundant attacking riches of Dario Conca, Elkeson and Asamoah Gyan to fire them into the knock-out round.
- Urawa Reds
- Guangzhou Evergrande (China) – The reigning Chinese and Asian champions will yet again be a formidable foe in the ACL. They added Colombian hot-shot Jackson Martinez in the January transfer window to a squad that already included Brazilians Paulinho & Ricardo Goulart, along with established Chinese internationals Zheng Zhi, Huang Bowen & Zhang Linpeng. It looks like big Phil Scolari’s side will once again be the team to beat.
- Sydney FC (Australia) – Sydney currently sit in the middle of the A-League but, given the tight nature of the league down under, they could be upwardly mobile in a short space of time. The team is coached by ex-Vegalta Sendai manager Graham Arnold.
- Pohang Steelers (Korea) – The men from the Steelyard, third in last year’s K-League Classic, made light work of their qualifier, seeing off Hanoi T&T 3-0. The Steelmen are three time winners of the competition (1997, 1998 & 2009).
The group stage gets underway on February 23rd & 24th.