AFC Champions League 2020 Match Day 2: The 8 Big Questions

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan previews the upcoming Match Day 2 action of AFC Champions League 2020 by asking the eight big questions.

Who can take early initiative in Group A?

It’s almost as if the four teams in Group A are still at square one following last week’s action, with Al Ahli, Al Shorta, Al Wahda and Esteghlal all tied on a point each after two 1-1 draws.

None of the teams really impressed although Iraq’s Al Shorta arguably emerged with the most credit after producing a plucky display to come from behind and eke out a point against Esteghlal – having initially looked like they would be completely overrun in the opening 45.

Al Ahli can also perhaps be satisfied with a point from a trip to Al Wahda but also have plenty of room for improvement, leaving Group A almost impossible to call at the moment.

Can Pakhtakor stay perfect ahead of crunch encounter with Al Hilal?

In the past three years, no team from Uzbekistan has managed to make it out of the group stage but Pakhtakor have gotten their 2020 campaign off to a perfect start by beating Shabab Al Ahli 2-1 last Monday.

In horrid conditions in Tashkent, Pakhtakor’s slight edge in class prevailed and next up for them is another home game against new boys Shahr Khodro.

Due to the AFC’s decision to hold the home games of all Iranian teams later in the tournament, Pakhtakor now have the benefit of home advantage in their opening two matches and must capitalise on this ahead of a daunting trip to face defending champions Al Hilal on March 3.

Could Chiangrai United pull off upset against ill-prepared Beijing Guoan?

The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc with the ACL schedule – especially with four Chinese clubs competing – but one team that will be able to take to the field this week is Beijing Guoan.

This is due to the fact that Beijing have been on a pre-season training camp in South Korea and thus have not had any quarantine measure imposed on them, but they will head into the game severely underdone.

Highlights – Melbourne Victory vs Chiangrai United

Chiangrai, on the other hand, already have two competitive matches under their belt and, while they did lose 1-0 to Melbourne Victory on their ACL debut last week, gave a good account of themselves and could just be quietly confident in their prospects of pulling off an upset on their own turf.

What can debutants Perth Glory bring on ACL debut?

Despite being one of the A-League’s founding members since its inception in 2005, they had to wait till last year to be crowned premiers for the first time ever and will thus be making their continental debut in ACL 2020.

 

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This makes Glory an interesting proposition but even more so considering they sat out last week as their match against Shanghai Shenhua was postponed.

On paper, they have an excellent squad boasting both experience and youth – including the likes of Bruno Fornaroli, Chris Ikonomidis and Nicholas D’Agostino – under a man that has done all this before in Western Sydney Wanderers’ former ACL-winning coach Tony Popovic.

Are Persepolis going to flatter to deceive again?

Having reached the final in 2018, Persepolis disappointingly failed to make it out of the group stage last year although it has to be remembered that there were just three points between them and group winners Al Sadd even though they finished bottom of Group D.

Last Tuesday, they were unable to get their ACL 2020 campaign off to a positive start as they were beaten 2-0 by Al Duhail and it is now imperative they avoid two defeats in a row.

The record Persian Gulf Pro League champions still have plenty of quality in their ranks from goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand to playmaker Bashar Resan and striker Ali Alipour so there should be no excuses against Sharjah, who are making their first appearance in the tournament since 2009.

Will Al Sadd be able to negotiate tricky Sepahan test?

As always, Al Sadd will be expected to go far once again in the ACL this year but they were unable to get off to a winning start after being held to a 2-2 draw by Al Nassr last week.

There were plenty of positives for manager Xavi to take from that game, with his attack in particular looking very potent, but picking up three points on Tuesday is imperative.

Still, it will not be straightforward against a Sepahan outfit who produced a stunning performance last time out to beat Al Ain 4-0, with left-back Saeid Aghaei in particular producing a starring display.

Should Vissel Kobe be considered legitimate contenders if they see off Suwon?

Vissel Kobe’s continental debut was one to remember as they thrashed Johor Darul Ta’zim 5-1 but tougher tests await the ambitious Japanese club, starting with Wednesday’s trip to Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

Having not been in action last week, Suwon will be raring to go – especially after a two-year absence from the competition – and have last season’s top scorer in the K League 1 leading the line in Adam Taggart.

Highlights – Vissel Kobe vs Johor Darul Ta’zim

Vissel should still head into this tie as favourites with Andres Iniesta pulling the strings behind a potent forward line of Douglas, Keijiro Ogawa and Kyogo Furuhashi, who combined for all five goals last week, and passing a far sterner test in South Korea could see them enhance their title credentials.

Is Sydney FC’s current crop good enough to match the class of 2016?

In five previous appearances in Asia’s premier club competition, Sydney FC have only once managed to make it out of the group stage in 2016.

History is certainly against the current crop of Sky Blues although there are quite a few who have claimed his could be Australia’s year to once again make an impact in the tournament.

The likes of Milos Ninkovic, Rhyan Grant, Alex Wilkinson and Adam le Fondre continue to lead the way but can also draw from the lessons of 2019 – where they failed to record a single win in six matches – in a bid to do better this season.

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