Australian teams hold advantage in ACL

John Duerden
·2-min read

More than eight months since the Asian Champions League was suspended due to the coronavirus, the eastern zone finally resumes on Sunday with teams from Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and China.

But the tournament will be far from normal.

Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) will not make the trip to host nation Qatar after failing to receive permission from the Malaysian government to leave the country which is in lockdown in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus.

There were concerns Australian and Chinese representatives would also not travel to the biosecure hub of Qatar but 15 of the 16 teams from the east - the tournament is divided into two geographic zones until the final - will be aiming to get out of their groups and into the knockout stage.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is hoping there will be no repeat of events in September when the western zone resumed and defending champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia were forced to withdraw from the tournament after 30 players and officials tested positive for COVID-19.

There is confidence that the protocols put in place in Qatar will ensure that all runs smoothly on and off the field.

"Our original concern was the health and safety of our players but I think the AFC has done a great job and it seems that everything in Qatar is safe," said Sydney FC chief executive Danny Townsend.

Australia has had only one ACL winner, Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014. But teams from Down Under, seeking to reach the December 18 final to take on Iran's Persepolis, may have an advantage.

Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory as well as Sydney FC have been able to rest since August as they prepare for the start of the new domestic season on December 27.

Opposition from South Korea, Japan and China arrived in Qatar tired and depleted after having either just finished or about to finish grueling domestic seasons.

Perth's first opponents, Shanghai Shenhua, had 11 injuries in their final Chinese Super League game earlier this week and could not fill the substitutes bench. On Wednesday, Guangzhou Evergrande lost their Chinese title to Jiangsu Suning.

International commitments will also affect some teams. Beijing Guoan starts without Chinese Super League top scorer Cedric Bakambu as the striker has flown to Africa to help Congo qualify for the 2021 African Cup of Nations.

Shanghai SIPG forward Marko Arnautovic is also in action for Austria while South Korea's Ulsan Horangi has four players in action for the national team in Europe..

While Chinese and South Korean teams have just finished their domestic seasons, Japan's J-League is just reaching its conclusion.

It is far from ideal for many of the teams but just finishing the tournament is the priority.