The AFC Champions League is back, and a formidable Shanghai SIPG outfit will travel to South Korea to face FC Seoul in a tantalising Group F clash on Tuesday.
It’s certainly one of the pick of the week’s matches, pitting last year’s semi-finalists against a Chinese super club boasting a wealth of talent.
Shanghai made plenty of headlines in the off-season as they splashed out big time to assemble a formidable squad, first appointing former Spurs and Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas as coach, and then breaking all sorts of transfer records with the signing of Brazil midfielder Oscar from Chelsea.
The Blues playmaker joined a squad featuring the likes of Elkeson, Hulk and Odil Ahmedov, another new acquisition from Krasnodar.
champions league squad for 2017 has been announced. 23 of the 30 are academy players. what an amazing accomplishment. pic.twitter.com/Qh2cysH1Ui
— shanghai sipg (@shanghai_sipg) February 14, 2017
FC Seoul do not have that wealth of international talent, having recently lost their Brazilian forward Adriano to Shijiazhuang Ever Bright FC, but they still have a more than capable squad, and boast a proud AFC Champions League record – particularly at home.
Head coach Hwang Sun-hong knows, however, that facing Shanghai first up will be no easy task.
“Shanghai are a quality team,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy for us, but we’ll have to beat them anyway in our road to the title. Since it’s a home match, we must collect a win.”
Asked about the imposing Brazilian attacking line-up of Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson, Hwang said the team would do their utmost to try and nullify them.
“Our players need to cooperate with each other to defend against those players,” he said. “I think our players are also talented like those foreign players in Shanghai.”
Villas-Boas, meanwhile, is also not taking Seoul lightly, having seen what they’ve been able to achieve in the continental showpiece.
“We start this group phase with one of the strongest opponents in the AFC Champions League,” he said. “We know their ambition is to win the competition.”
The Portuguese manager also acknowledged the match away against Seoul was arguably the hardest one of the entire group for them.
“We’re in a very difficult group where every single point counts,” he said. “Perhaps this match will be our most difficult away match. But we really want to do well and get points to qualify.”
— FCInsider (@followFCInsider) February 19, 2017
Villas-Boas also paid tribute to K League, which he said was filled with “technically gifted” players.
“Their technical abilities are quite strong and we have such good examples like Ki (Sung-yueng) in Swansea and Ji-sung Park in between so many others,” he said.
He also acknowledged some talent in the Seoul squad, mentioning the names of Dejan Damjanovic, Osmar Barba and Ju Se-jong, although he admitted he was not sure just who would be turning out for his opponents following several changes to their squad in the off-season.
“Both teams are trying to get into rhythm and shape through this match,” he added. “Both teams are in little bit of an experimental phase.”