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ACL Preview: Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Guangzhou Evergrande

 

After a turbulent domestic campaign, Suwon Samsung Bluewings shift their focus back to the AFC Champions League, where they face an uphill task on Sunday. Park Kun-ha’s men are up against Guangzhou Evergrande in Group G, where they occupy bottom place and without a win. Can the Bluewings pull off an unlikely upset? K League United’s Nived Zenith previews the clash


Last Time Out

Gangwon FC 1-2 Suwon Samsung Bluewings

The Bluewings were last seen in action around three weeks ago, when they faced Gangwon FC in the final round of their K League 2020 season. Although they flattered to deceive in the larger context of the domestic season, Suwon have enjoyed respite in the meetings with Gangwon. 

Park Kun-ha’s men broke the deadlock as early as the seventh minute, when Kim Min-woo’s free-kick was guided into the back of the Gangwon net by Doneil Henry’s diving header. Suwon were then rewarded with a penalty around the 19th minute as Shin Se-gye left his trailing arm in the way of Kim Gun-hee’s cross. Adam Taggart made no mistake from the spot to double the advantage. Ko Moo-yeol pulled a goal back in the 54th minute, but Suwon managed to preserve the lead and come away with a win.


Guangzhou Evergrande 1-2 Jiangsu Suning (1-2 Agg)

Fabio Cannavaro’s troops are coming into the meeting against Suwon after a crushing defeat that stripped them off their Chinese Super League crown. Guangzhou Evergrande were beaten in the second leg of the final after the sides played out a 0-0 draw first. Alex Teixeira played a starring role for Jiangsu Suning on the night, where eight-time champions Guangzhou were reduced to 10-men. 

Eder scored the opening goal with a huge deflection from a free-kick awarded after the marching orders given to He Chao. Teixeira established a two-goal cushion right after the half time interval to put Jiangsu on course to win their maiden CSL title. Wei Shihao reduced the deficit, but his strike was not enough to help Guangzhou lift their ninth CSL title in 10 seasons.

Previous Meetings

The sides have only met each other twice in the AFC Champions League. Both the meetings back in 2017 ended in 2-2 draws as the teams met in Group G. During that season, Guangzhou were able to edge past Suwon to qualify to the next round behind leaders Kawasaki Frontale. 

Additionally, the sides have also met in an international friendly back in 2015, when Suwon registered a 2-0 win. As such, the Bluewings hold an unbeaten record over their Chinese counterparts ahead of the meeting in Qatar.

Team News

Suwon Samsung Bluewings

The Bluewings are plagued by injuries ahead of their return to the AFC Champions League. All of Yeom Ki-hun, Doneil Henry and Adam Taggart are on the sidelines and have been excluded from the squad for the competition in Qatar. Since Suwon already parted ways with Sulejman Krpic, Taggart’s absence now means they will be without a foreign striker in the continental competition.

In the absence of several key players, the onus will be on the likes of Kim Min-woo to step up and try to inspire the others around them to fight tooth and nail for a result.

Guangzhou Evergrande 

The two-time AFC Champions League winners also have notable absentees ahead of the clash on Sunday. Paulinho, who was the top-scorer for Guangzhou in the Chinese Super League this season, has withdrawn from the squad due to a thigh injury. The influential midfielder is replaced by Ricardo Goulart, who was on loan at Hebei China Fortune. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder was the top-scorer back in 2015, when Guangzhou won their second AFC Champions League title.

Captain Zheng Zhi will also miss the game owing to his injury as Guangzhou prepare to bounce back with a win. Former Gyeongnam centre-back Park Ji-soo will be a familiar face in the heart of defence for Guangzhou. 
 

The Adversary

There is no denying the fact that Guangzhou are favourites to win against Suwon on Sunday. Notably, they are only one of three teams (all from China) to have not opened their campaign before the pandemic halted the East zone competitions. As such, Guangzhou will be determined to get off to a winning start and reinstate their credentials as favourites to progress from Group G.

Fabio Cannavaro’s men are also wounded as they ultimately fell short of the Chinese Super League title to Jiangsu Suning. Despite notching up the maximum goals and just a solitary defeat (lowest in the league) during the group stages, Guangzhou were trumped in the two-legged final as part of the newly-introduced format. 

Despite missing out on the services of the influential Paulinho, there is still plenty of attacking quality within their ranks. The Brazilian contingent of Talisca, Elkeson and Fernandinho have 18 goals between them. Further, the addition of Goulart ensures Cannavaro is not bereft of options.

What To Watch

Can Suwon and Guangzhou justify the ‘Glamour’ of Group G?

Group G of the AFC Champions League (East) is the final group to resume in Qatar. Following the withdrawal of Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim, the group features just three teams now in Suwon Bluewings, Guangzhou Evergrande and Vissel Kobe. On paper, this is as illustrious as a group can get with two former champions in Suwon and Guangzhou marking the resumption of action, followed by Vissel Kobe featuring World Cup and multiple Champions League winner Andres Iniesta. 

However, only two of these decorated sides will ultimately progress to the next round. The stage is set for the action to resume in Group G, all it needs is the ideal curtain-raiser from Suwon and Guangzhou on Sunday. 


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Prediction

Undoubtedly, Guangzhou are favourites to win on Sunday. Although Suwon won four out of their last six K League games to enjoy a decent run of form towards the end, they will be without a few key players for the clash at the Khalifa International Stadium. As such, the scale is slightly tipping in favour of Guangzhou, who could be among the goals. 

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