The East Zone competition of the Asian Champions League will finally kick off this week after a series of delays and withdrawals, although the troubled tournament looks different from previous editions of the continental championship.
For the second year in a row, the Asian club’s flagship event takes place in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions put in place by governments in the region. All matches in Groups H and I will be played in Uzbekistan, with Thailand hosting all matches in Groups F, G and J.
Defending champion Ulsan Horang-i of South Korea travels to Bangkok for six games in the space of two weeks and coach Hong Myong-bo is wary of the varying conditions as he prepares for a match. opening against Viettel from Vietnam on Sunday in Group F.
“My team may be better than other clubs from an objective point of view, but two other teams from South East Asia are familiar with the weather and the surroundings of the site,” said Hong, captain of the South Korean national team who reached the 2002 championship. The World Cup semi-finals, said. “I’ve heard that Thailand enters the rainy season in July. We have to prepare to play football in the rain. ” Ulsan’s chances of defending his crown have improved due to events elsewhere. Australian A-League clubs Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City have withdrawn from the competition, following Shan United’s withdrawal from Myanmar in May. No official reason was released by A-League clubs, but with travel to and from Australia tightly limited and continental competition conflicting with the domestic season playoffs, it was difficult for them to compete.
“Obviously we want to play in the Champions League,” Sydney coach Steve Corica said at the time. “That’s why we finish first or second, to participate in a good competition like this, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to work for us this year. Chinese teams have similar problems, but instead of pulling out, Guangzhou FC, Beijing Guoan and the Port of Shanghai have sent in teams made up of a mix of youngsters and reserve players. Beijing’s 20-man squad have an average age of under 21, making them the youngest squad in the history of the competition.
Forfeits and weakened teams can lead to improved performance for countries that have not yet lifted the trophy. Thailand have an unprecedented number of four representatives in the competition and United City will be among the first representatives of the Philippines to appear in the group stage. ” We have been close to reaching the group stage for the past two years even. if we honestly knew that it was very difficult to eliminate Chinese or Japanese teams because of their level, but we always fought really well and that made us proud, ”said United City forward Bienvenido Maranon. “Now we’re excited to finally play a role in the group stage and we’ll enjoy it like never before. The game in the eastern zone begins with the Pohang Steelers taking on Ratchaburi FC of Thailand on Tuesday and Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim taking on Nagoya Grampus of Japan on Wednesday in Group G.
The five group winners and the three best runners-up will advance to the second round, which takes place in September. The western zone completed its group stage in April. The tournament is divided into two geographic areas until the final in November.
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