SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Despite the significant sums of money spent by Chinese Super League teams on big-name foreign stars, three of its four representatives in the Asian Champions League are in danger of first-round elimination this week.
Only Shandong Luneng, inspired by former Manchester United star Marouane Fellaini and Italy striker Graziano Pelle — who scored six goals in the first five games — is guaranteed a place in the last 16 of the 32-team tournament with the last rotation of the group stage to play.
Elsewhere, it is much more uncertain.
Guangzhou Evergrande coach Fabio Cannavaro finds himself under pressure as they prepare to face Daegu on Wednesday.
The seven-time Chinese champion, Asian champion in 2013 and 2015, needs three points against the South Korean side in order to take second spot in Group F and progress to the knockout stage. A point will be enough for Daegu.
"We have to win and then we can keep going towards our target of a place in the next round," Cannavaro said ahead of the game that is expected to be attended by 45,000 fans. "It won't be easy but we are capable of going far."
At home, there are issues for the team that won the Chinese Super League every season from 2011 to 2017. Guangzhou is eight points off the top spot in the Chinese Super League meaning Cannavaro, fired in his first spell with the club in 2015, needs continental success.
Chinese champion Shanghai SIPG ended Guangzhou's seven-season domestic dominance in November and also needs a win against Ulsan Horang-i to be sure of progressing. It is a task made easier as the South Korean side has already won Group H and will be resting much of its first team.
It remains to be seen if Hulk, Shanghai's star striker, returns from injury.
"It is not about one player," Shanghai coach Vitor Pereira said. "This game is like a final for us and we know what we have to do. We need to win. Ulsan is a good team but we have our fate in our hands."
At home, Beijing Guoan is top of the Chinese Super League with 10 wins from 10 but with South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors already sure of top place in Group G, Beijing needs to win at the Japanese home of Urawa Reds to take second.
Group E is the most open. Shandong has taken top spot but there are three teams still battling for second. If defending champion Kashima Antlers defeat the already qualified Shandong then the Japanese team takes second. Gyeongnam of South Korea and Johor Darul Tazim of Malaysia can step in should Kashima slip up.
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