After two rounds of preliminaries it’s now time for the first Korean team to enter this year’s Asian Champions League as FC Seoul make a return to the competition after missing out in both 2018 and 2019. Seoul are joined by Japan’s FC Tokyo and Kashima Antlers along with Chinese Super Cup winners Shanghai SIPG.
FC Seoul vs Kedah
It’s been a long 2 year exile from the ACL for the fans of Korea’s capital club as the club slowly begin to repair the damage done by ex-Manager Hwang Sun-hong. With Choi Yong-soo back at the helm they look a much less fragile bunch and despite not exactly being flamboyant in the league last year they were the best of the rest as Jeonbuk and Ulsan raced away from the chasing pack. Much of that increased robustness has come from the return of Osmar who was inexplicably loaned to the J-League in 2018. They have just recently brought back Adriano after injury ruled him out of most of Jeonbuk’s 2019. He was unplayable at times under Choi the first time around and if he is to repeat the form he showed in 2016 then it could be an easier season for Seoul fans to watch this year. Kedah travel to Korea after knocking out Hong Kong’s Tai Poh in the last round, they won that tie 5-1 with Kipré Tchétché having a debut to remember as he bagged himself a hat-trick. The aforementioned Osmar will prove a sterner test for the Ivorian in this clash and you can’t really see the Malaysians emerging victorious, but then again if any team can pluck defeat from the jaws of victory it probably is FC Seoul.
Shanghai SIPG vs Buriram United
Buriram United eased past Ho Chi Min City in the preliminaries courtesy of two 2nd half goals from Cuesta and Bueno although the Vietnamese visitors did make it difficult for their hosts when they pulled a goal back with just over 10 mins to go. The reward for that victory is a trip to China to face the might of Shanghai SIPG in a match which will be played behind closed doors due to the current issues with the Wuhan virus. SIPG are, of course, no strangers to the ACL of late having reached at least the Round of 16 the last four years in a row. They still boast Hulk and Oscar among their squad and, as mentioned above, defeated Beijing Guoan 2-0 in the Chinese Super Cup last year which is the Chinese equivalent of the Charity Shield. They finished the season 3rd in the league behind Evergrande and Bejing Guoan. They will need to have their wits about them in this match as Buriram are no mugs although they haven’t exactly struggled against Thai opposition in the past recording an aggregate score of 7-0 over the last 4 years.
FC Tokyo vs Ceres-Negros
This year’s fairy tale story has undoubtedly been Ceres-Negros as the Philippines League winners added the scalp of Port FC to that of Shan United as they sent the Thai FA Cup winners crashing out of the ACL. They reached the playoffs back in 2018 when they lost 2-0 to Tianjin and will again face a tough test this year as they face J-League runners-up FC Tokyo. Tokyo are back in the ACL after a rather long exodus, 2016 being the last time the qualified for the tournament. Back in 2016 they finished runners-up to Jeonbuk in the Group stages before losing to Shanghai SIPG on away goals in the Round of 16. They will have to guard against complacency as Ceres definitely look fired up for the tie and will travel full of confidence that they can pull off a giant-slaying and book themselves their first ever position in the Groups. This match is certainly going to be one for the neutrals to tune into, here’s hoping it doesn’t disappoint.
Kashima Antlers vs Melbourne Victory
Undoubtedly the tie of the tournament so far sees Melbourne Victory travel to Japan to face the powerhouse that is Kashima Antlers. Victory easily dispatched of Bali United in the last round as they skelped them 5-0, with five different names on the score-sheet too., in Antlers though they will face a totally different challenge. The 2018 ACL winners will definitely give Victory one of the toughest matches of their whole season nevermind in the ACL. Antlers finished 3rd in the J-League least year and are the most successful team in Japan having won the title eight times . They lost on away goals to Evergrande at the Quarter-Final stage last year and are a team with a more than impressive Continental pedigree, having qualified from the Group Stages each year they’ve qualified since 2016. Victory have never won an away game in the ACL and you would have to imagine that traveling to face a team like Kashima Antlers might just keep that run going.
The full road to the Group Stages is below…..