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Marquee names getting Shandong Luneng back on track

Shandong Luneng made world headlines with the stunning capture of Italy striker Graziano Pelle from Southampton and Senegal striker Papiss Cisse from Newcastle United, as they looked to rescue a disastrous Chinese Super League campaign that saw them rooted to the bottom of the table.

Graziano Pelle Arrives In Jinan

Italian footballer Graziano Pelle arrives in China Source: Getty Images

Before that, Mano Menezes, the former Seleção coach who was only appointed at the start of the year, was given the flick and replaced by renowned disciplinarian Felix Magath.

The former Fulham, Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich coach quickly put his stamp on the club, showing fan favourites Aloisio, last season’s CSL golden boot winner, and Diego Tardelli the door.

Ironically for a club who has traditionally performed well domestically, but poorly in Asia, their form in this season’s AFC Champions League has been the one shining light in an otherwise poor 2016.

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Magath’s arrival has seen a sudden improvement in fortunes, with only two losses in their last eight matches allowing them to move up to 11th and six points clear of the relegation zone.

In Asia they made the knockout rounds of the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2005, and thanks to a last minute wonder goal from Hao Junmin they squeezed past Sydney FC in the Round of 16 to set up a quarter final clash with Korean giants FC Seoul.

Magath is hoping success is Asia can help salvage something from what has been a disappointing campaign for the three-time CSL champions.

“Our Chinese Super League campaign clearly doesn’t run as expected,” the 63-year-old German told The World Game.

“We consider the AFC Champions League quarter final as a highly appreciated opportunity to somehow add a piece of success to this season.”

FC Seoul are a team they know well, having been drawn in Group F with the Korean side for the group stage. They were hammered 4-1 at home by a dominant FC Seoul outfit, before earning a respectable 0-0 draw in the return leg in the Korean capital.

“We know our opponent pretty well,” Magath said.

“We are aware of their top quality because we lost 1-4 in Jinan back in March throughout the group stage.

“Of course we kept ourselves updated regularly regarding FC Seoul over the course of the season, that’s why we are well informed about their strengths and weaknesses.

“FC Seoul is a top Korean club that provides an extremely well-organized game plan, which is executed by their players with extraordinary discipline.

“It will be very difficult to beat them over the course of this quarter final.”




Despite Shandong’s struggles, FC Seoul certainly won’t be taking the Chinese side lightly, as their star striker Dejan Damjanovic .

“Everybody is saying its going to be easy, for sure it’s not going to be easy, Shandong is making a lot of changes, they bought two new strikers. We just need to think about ourselves and our performance and being in the best mood and best shape without injuries.

“We are playing the first game at home, so it’s important to be in the best shape at that time. We have a chance, but you can miss very easy if you think it’s going to be easy and ‘it’s just Shandong’. Shandong is not a bad team, I played against them in China and they’re one of the best teams in China.”

There will be some relief for the FC Seoul defenders, with Papiss Cisse not registered for the final rounds of the AFC Champions League, with Shandong opting to register Pelle, Walter Montillo and Gil as their three foreign players.

“Pellè arrived here in great shape physically as he played an important role for Italy in the Euro 2016 during the summer. Cissé had to deal with some physical deficits as his previous competitive matches had been back in May,” Magath said, explaining why the Senegalese striker was overlooked for the knockout rounds.

Elsewhere in Asia former champions Jeonbuk Hyundai travel to Shanghai to take on Shanghai SIPG. It looks increasingly likely, however, that Hulk won’t feature for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side after being sidelined since injuring his hamstring in his debut for the club last month.

The 2015 CSL runners-up were also dealt a blow over the weekend with midfield star Dario Conca going down injured in their clash against Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, with reports suggesting the Argentine could be sidelined for up to two months.

In the west there are two intriguing match ups to look forward to.

Al Ain, who won the inaugural AFC Champions League in 2003, are at home against Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv Tashkent, who possess the best defence of the final eight clubs, having conceded only four goals in their eight matches to date.

 


That defence will be put to the ultimate test against an Al Ain side that features former J.League duo Caio and Douglas, the latter scoring 21 goals for champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima last season, as well as arguably Asia’s best player in Omar Abdulrahman.

The final match will see Qatar’s El Jaish, who last week signed former Barcelona and AS Roma star Seydou Keita, host the UAE’s Al Nasr, who themselves signed Abdelaziz Barrada from Olympique Marseille during the transfer window.

The Qatari side suffered a setback recently with influential Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah sidelined for two months with a knee injury, meaning more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Brazilian Romarinho and Uzbek young gun Sardor Rashidov, who Australian audiences will remember from last year’s AFC Asian Cup.


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5 min read
Published 21 August 2016 at 11:35pm
By Paul Williams