Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chinese showing early ACL promise

Maybe it's a little too early to get excited, but perhaps 2010 is going to bring a new dawn for Chinese football after all.

Following on from the national team's success at the East Asian Championship, the country's clubs have had a decent start to the 2010 edition of the Asian Champions League. And all this comes in the aftermath of the government's attempts to finally rid the game of the scourge of match fixing.

None have impressed more than Beijing Guoan, who have won their first two games and sit level on points with former continental champions Seongnam Ilhwa at the top of Group E. With Melbourne Victory and Kawasaki Frontale yet to pick up any points, the battle for a berth in the second round in that group could be all but done by the next round of games.

Shandong Luneng and Changchun Yatai, meanwhile, have had a mixed start while Henan Jianye came back from the disappointment of drawing with Singapore Armed Forces at home to pick up a point on the road against Gamba Osaka on Tuesday evening.

For a country that has not had a team reach the knockout phase of the competition since 2006, these results are a step in the right direction. And their hope has to be that the performances will only improve once the players gain greater match fitness when the Chinese Super League kicks off later this month.

The first two weeks have also been a bit of a mixed bag for the Japanese. No one expected much from Sanfrecce Hiroshima in their first appearance in the competition but better things were hoped for from Kawasaki Frontale. However, under new coach Tsutomu Takahata they have lost both of their opening games and will now struggle to match their run to the quarterfinals in both 2007 and 2009.

Former champions Gamba Osaka have been disappointing but face Singapore Armed Forces next in a game that should net them three points. Kashima Antlers have at least put on a showing worthy of the Japanese champions by claiming back-to-back wins to move three points clear at the top of Group F.

Of the eastern nations, it's the South Koreans who have impressed most with Seongnam and Suwon Bluewings topping their respective groups while defending champions Pohang Steelers at least came back from their surprise loss against Adelaide United with a win over Sanfrecce.

In the west, Al Gharafa, Al Hilal and Bunyodkor are the only teams to have perfect records after two rounds of matches with inaugural champions Al Ain picking up only one point so far, in a draw against Sepahan on Wednesday.

The tournament also claimed its first casualty on Wednesday when Henk Ten Cate stepped down as head coach Al Ahli from the UAE after their 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Al Sadd.

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