Top clubs from Japan, China, and the Korea Republic are now competing on the Asian stage. The AFC Champions League 2013 began on 26th February with elite clubs of the three countries appearing one after another.
On 26th February, Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) took on Urawa Reds (JPN) in the top-billed match on the opening day.
At their home ground, the back-to-back Chinese Super League champions fully showed their quality. Led by renowned Italian coach Marcello Lippi, the home side kept controlling the game with effective attacking plays while containing Urawa’s strong points.
On 16 minutes, Paraguay international forward Lucas Barrios scored an opener before Brazilian Muriqui extended their lead. An own goal by the away side in the final minutes rounded off the Chinese champions’ 3-0 win and the home crowd were delighted. For 2007 Asian champions Urawa, this losing start could be a severe blow to their challenge to regain the title.
In the other game in Group F, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR) played out a 2-2 draw with Muangthong United (THA). The Korean side took the lead after international forward Lee Dong-Gook, also known as “Lion King” scored. However, Muangthong equalized late on to earn a point.
Two games were played on the same day in Group E as well and Vegalta Sendai (JPN) took on Buriram United (THA) at home. The dead lock was broken eight minutes after the restart when Sendai opened the score. After changing their system from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 at the interval, Sendai converted their pressure high up the field to several big chances and were finally awarded a penalty, which was taken successfully by Ryang Yong-Gi. On 76 minutes, however, Buriram equalized from a corner. Champions League debutants Sendai pushed hard for a winner until the last minute, but the Thai side, who got the better of Kashiwa Reysol and Guangzhou Evergrande in last season’s competition, showed their tactfulness to secure a point.
In Seoul, the K League champions cruised to a 5-1 victory against Chinese side Jiangsu Sainty. Dejan Damjanovic, a Golden Boot winner two seasons in a row, scored twice to help the home side win.
There were plenty of games to watch on the following day as well. In Group H, Guizhou Renhe (CHN) played against Kashiwa Reysol (JPN) and created more chances than their opponents. With Bosnia and Herzegovina international duo, midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic and forward Zlatan Muslimovic, at the heart of their attacking force, the Chinese side repeatedly threatened Kashiwa’s defence. However, it was the Japanese side who won the game. New signing Cleo scored an opener on the cusp of half-time and the away team hung on with that goal right up until the final whistle to earn an important three points
Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR) were held to a scoreless draw by Central Coast Mariners (AUS). Their new signing Jong Tae-Se failed to score, but showed that he has already settled in.
In Group G, Pohang Steelers (KOR) and Beijing Guoan (CHN) also played out a 0-0 draw. In the other game of the group, Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN) lost 0-2 at home against Bunyodkor (UZB). For Hiroshima, it was a painful loss at the start of their second appearance in the competition.
Almost all Asian Champions League participants from Japan, China, and the Korea Republic boast many international players, so the competition provides a good chance to check out players who are expected to shine in the EAFF East Asian Cup 2013.