Preview: Shandong v FC Seoul

Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng FC and K-League outfit FC Seoul will be looking to extend their unbeaten streaks when they face off in an AFC Champions League clash on Wednesday.

Both sides are unbeaten after two matches and in the group stages, with Seoul at the summit due to a superior goal difference.

In their opening Champions league match, Shandong defeated Sanfrecce 2-1 in Japan and in their second match they beat Buriram 3-0 on home soil.

Meanwhile, Seoul crushed Buriram 6-0 in Thailand in their AFC Champions League opener and hammered Sanfrecce 4-1 at home in their second match.

With the two sides having started strongly, Shandong coach Mano Menezes admittted that the match will be a close affair. 

“Both teams have done pretty well in the first two group matches by winning two in a row, and now are ranked at first and second. I think the game tomorrow is going be a very tight one,” he told the official AFC website. “We need to play well and win it. A win will grant us a good position for qualification.”

Shandong are China’s most regular representatives in the AFC Champions League with seven previous appearances, but they have only reached the quarter-finals once in 2005. They qualified for this year’s event after beating Mohun Bagan of India and Adelaide United of Australia in the playoffs in February.

After finishing third in the Chinese Super League in 2015, Shandong began their 2016 campaign with a 3-0 loss at Jiangsu FC, but bounced back by winning 3-2 against Liaoning Whowin FC last Friday and lie in 10th spot on the standings with three points after two games.

However, their victory against Liaoning came at a price as midfielders Walter Montillo and Zhao Mingjian were both injured and now face the possibility of missing Shandong’s clash with Seoul.

“We won our CSL game a few days ago, but had paid the price of having two injured players, Montillo and Zhao Mingjian,” Menezes said. “We are still assessing their injuries and will see if they could play or not.

“We are playing at home in front of many fans. The atmosphere will be amazing and I hope we can win it.”

Heading into the match, FC Seoul will have to wary of Shandong’s Brazilian forward Diego Tardelli as he has scored in both of his side’s AFC Champions League matches. Midfielder Jucilei could also cause some problems as he found the back of the net in the 3-0 win over Buriram United on March 1.

Historically Seoul have played in the Champions League five times and came close to winning in 2013, but lost on away goals to Guangzhou Evergrande of China in the final. In 2014 they reached the semi-finals and in 2015 where knocked out in the round of 16 by Japan’s Gamba Osaka.

In domestic action after finishing fourth in the K League Classic in 2015, Seoul started their 2016 season by losing 1-0 against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Saturday and sit in ninth position on the table with no points after one game.

The star player for Seoul is Brazilian striker Adriano who has scored seven goals in FC Seoul’s two group games.

Even though his side have done little preparation for the game, Seoul coach Choi Yong-soo is confident that his side can get the job done and snap Shandong’s unbeaten streak.

“The best gift to the fans is a good match and we will try our best for that. In the meantime, we will try to stop Shandong from gaining any points from this match,” he said. “We haven’t done any special training or arrangement for this match. It was all planned as before. We have to fight for every game, and I believe we can make it.”

The action at the Jinan Olympic Sports Centre gets underway at 15:20pm HKT on FOX Sports.

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