Five talking points from AFC Champions League Matchday 1

The opening eight matches of group play in the eastern half of the draw are locked away with a whopping twenty goals being tucked away with clubs from Japan and China confirming their early status as leading contenders to reach the knockout stage.

FOX Sports Asia takes a look at what we learned from Matchday One action.

THE TALKING POINT: China and Japan shine

Much of the attention was rightly focused on the ACL debut of Eastern and their female coach, Chan Yuen-ting, but the debutants from Hong Kong were thrashed 7-0 by the juggernaut that is Guangzhou Evergrande although two red cards in the first 34 minutes obviously made their task near to impossible.

That win and those by Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu in Korea made it a perfect start for the Chinese clubs who didn’t concede a single goal between them in what is the best ever start to the ACL by Chinese clubs.

They were nearly matched by Japan’s four representatives with Urawa stunning Western Sydney 4-0 and Gamba brushing aside Adelaide 3-0 on the road.

Kashima eased past Ulsan 2-0 in Ibaraki whilst Kawasaki only conceded a sloppy own goal as they were held 1-1 by Suwon in what was also an eye-catching showing by the Japanese clubs.

With Korea holding the balance of power for much of the last decade in Asia, we could be witnessing a slight shifting of that back to the big clubs in China and Japan.

THE STAR: Kwoun Sun-tae

Kashima had pursued their man for several months and they finally landed him when they signed Kwoun Sun-tae from last year’s disgraced ACL champions Jeonbuk.

He immediately displaced long serving and admired veteran Hitoshi Sogahata and his performance in Kashima’s 2-0 win over Ulsan justified that pursuit.

The Korean national keeper was in fine form, repelling a wave of Ulsan attacks and pulling off some fantastic saves, both low down and in both corners of his goal.

Antlers may be better recognised for their attack prowess but with Kwoun’s arrival they may have a key piece of the puzzle in making a serious dent at the ACL title.

HEADLINE ACT: Muangthong impress

Thai clubs have fared poorly in the ACL in recent years but Muangthong entered the tournament with high hopes that they could buck that trend and started fantastically well with a scoreless draw in against a Brisbane side that had knocked off Shanghai Shenhua to reach the group stage.

Chock full of national team stars it was a wonderful result and with most tipping a battle between these two clubs to see who finishes second in Group E, Muangthong made the ideal start.

The fact that the Brisbane played a weakened side certainly helped but this was a well-earned point that sets the Twin Qilins up very nicely.


The Incredible Hulk.

Whilst both Alan and Paulinho’s strikes were headline catching moments the best strike of the round was undoubtedly the one that saw Shanghai SIPG win in Korea as Brazilian star Hulk picked up the ball a fair distance from goal, spun and powered a unstoppable shot into the left hand corner of the FC Seoul goal – a delightful strike full of power and control.

THE NEGATIVE: Squad Rotation

It’s beggars belief that after fighting so hard to reach the ACL clubs then often mix and match their squads to prioritise domestic duties.

Whilst an increase in prize money saw the Japanese clubs name strong teams (which wasn’t always the case) both Western Sydney and Brisbane let the competition down by fielding vastly understrength starting teams with a clear focus on their upcoming A-League matches.

Not only is it illogical given this tournament is the highest level they can play at but it’s something that the ACL needs to look at trying to stop, whatever the way.