FC Seoul have hardest group in Asian Champions League - Dejan Damjanovic
FC Seoul face the most difficult task in the group stage of the 2017 Asian Champions League (ACL), according to Dejan Damjanovic, whose side are preparing to take on Chinese big spenders Shanghai SIPG.
The South Korean club host the Chinese Super League side, who brushed off Thailand's Sukhothai in the playoff round to book their place in the group stage of the competition.
Seoul and SIPG meet at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Tuesday and are joined in the same group by a pair of former ACL winners, Western Sydney Wanderers of Australia and Japan's Urawa Reds.
And Seoul forward Damjanovic is convinced the quartet are the strongest in the 32-team competition.
"I think the hardest group is our group because all four teams are really good teams and every game will be really tough," the former Montenegro international, who reached the 2013 ACL final with Seoul, told ESPN FC. "For us, the first game is at home and we have to have a good result to open the season well. We cannot afford to lose points at home.
"Shanghai are an excellent team, I know them from my time in China and they have even better foreigners than at that time, so probably they are going to expect them to do something so we have to prepare for these kind of players. They are good players, with individual abilities and they have played in the top five leagues in Europe.
"We need to be careful in the beginning, but I think the Korean teams are better in my opinion and we have to show we are one of the best teams in Asia. We need to pass this group. I know it's not going to be easy, but game by game we have to do well because our focus this year is minimum to reach the semifinals and try to go maybe one step more."
Damjanovic believes the investment made by Chinese clubs into foreign talent -- which saw SIPG break the Asian transfer record twice in the last 12 months, with Oscar's capture from Chelsea for €60 million setting a new benchmark -- will make the competition even more intriguing than usual.
"The Chinese are investing a lot and they are trying to improve the league and make better results, and one thing for sure is that Guangzhou Evergrande are going to be better than last year," he said. "Jiangsu [Suning] and Shanghai are really tough teams and this year the Champions League is going to be really interesting. Our group is really tough. Now we have to focus on this first game and focus on getting the three points and then we will see.
"We're going to try, we've prepared well and we are without injuries. We are playing at home and what more do you want? We are opening our season at home and to play in front of our fans against an excellent team like Shanghai, who have an excellent coach, good foreign players and Chinese national team players, it's going to be one of the best games in the first round. So, we will try to make a good result and if we have a good result it will give us a lot of confidence for the coming games."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch