China’s megabucks teams will set their sights on continental glory when defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande and big-spending Jiangsu Suning embark on their AFC Champions League campaigns this week.
After a spending spree which has made the football world sit up and take notice, Chinese teams will want to make good on their investment with an immediate impact in the Asian competition.
Chinese clubs have smashed the national transfer record four times in recent weeks and outstripped spending in the English Premier League, highlighted by Alex Teixeira’s 50-million-euro move to Jiangsu.
The club formerly known as Jiangsu Sainty also splashed out 28 million euros on another Brazilian midfielder, Ramires from Chelsea, as they bid to challenge Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Evergrande.
Evergrande, the Chinese and Asian title-holders, have brandished the cheque book too with a 42-million-euro swoop for Atletico Madrid’s Colombian striker Jackson Martinez.
But they also offloaded Brazilian marksman Elkeson, who scored a brilliant winner in last year’s final against Al Ahli, meaning it will be a new-look attack in Wednesday’s opener against Pohang Steelers.
Evergrande will also be without their usual hordes of red-shirted fans after the champions were ordered to play their first game behind closed doors for filming a closed Al Ahli training session, holding an unauthorised post-final ceremony and infringing on the commercial rights of AFC (Asian Football Confederation) sponsors.
The Chinese team was hit by legal action from shirt sponsors Dongfeng Nissan when they played the second leg of the final with jerseys emblazoned with the Chinese name of Evergrande Life, an insurance subsidiary of one of the club’s co-owners.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG, who snapped up Elkeson from Evergrande, also represent China in this year’s competition along with Shandong Luneng, led by ex-Brazil boss Mano Menezes.
Sydney FC and Japan’s Urawa Reds, as well as the Steelers, are Evergrande’s obstacles in Group H, while Jiangsu’s main Group E rivals shape up as 2006 winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and FC Tokyo.
Teams from West and East Asia will be kept apart until the final, in a measure designed to boost clubs from the Middle East who have only won one of the last 10 editions.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, who lifted the title in 2004 and 2005, travel to Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv on Tuesday after earning their spot in Group A via the play-offs.
Saudi side Al Ahli, who lost acrimoniously to Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014 final, also begin their campaign against Uzbek competition in the form of Nasaf.