China vs. South Korea in Champions League and World Cup showdowns
The next few weeks produces a fascinating club and country China vs. South Korea football trilogy that could prove to be as big as a Hollywood blockbuster.
This East Asian rivalry has historically been one-sided in the favour of Seoul (Korea have lost just once in 30 international meetings) but the upper-hand is not quite as strong as it was.
That will be tested this week in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League as the two East Asian ties are both Sino-Korean affairs.
Then, on Sep 1, comes a huge 2018 World Cup qualifier in Seoul between South Korea and China. It is the first match in the final round.
ESPN FC takes a look at this late summer series ...
SHANGHAI SIPG vs. JEONBUK MOTORS, Aug. 23 & Sep. 13 -- Asian Champions League quarterfinal
Sven Goran-Eriksson has won plenty as a coach but his last trophy came back in 2000, a year when he won three, including the Serie A title, with Lazio. In 2015, the Swede came close to the Chinese Super League title but was pipped by Guangzhou Evergrande and old nemesis Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The domestic title is not coming this year either but if he can deliver the Asian Champions League, nobody will care. Any of the eight remaining teams can win and Shanghai certainly have the quality to go all the way with stars like Dario Conca and Elkeson, who were instrumental in Guangzhou's 2013 Asian win.
Conca picked up a serious injury at the weekend, however, and the Argentine playmaker will miss out. Then there is Hulk, signed for over $60 million in June. The Brazilian international was injured on his debut and has been out since. Now back in training, he will make the second leg, if not the first.
It would be a mistake to focus too much on the foreigners, though. Local talents including Wu Lei have been as impressive as any of the Chinese Super League imports this season and he continues to be in great form. Shanghai's lesser-known players should not be underestimated.
And neither should Jeonbuk. This is Shanghai's debut appearance in the tournament but this is Jeonbuk's seventh time in the last eight. The defending Korean champions have played more games in the Asian Champions League than any other, their coach Choi Kang-hee has coached more games in the tournament and striker Lee Dong-gook has scored more goals than any other as well.
Brazilian attacker Leonardo can be devastating on his day and there are not many better midfielders in Asia than Jae-sung Lee and Kim Bo-Kyung. Defensively, Jeonbuk are a little suspect but both teams have the firepower to hurt the other.
FC SEOUL vs. SHANDONG LUNENG, Aug. 24 & Sep. 14 -- Asian Champions League quarterfinal
This tie lacks a little of the glamour of the other partly because the two teams met in the group stage earlier this year. At the time Seoul were in the middle of some special first round form. The Koreans, finalists in 2013, won 4-1 in China. The return in Seoul was goalless as Shandong stayed deep and compact.
There have been changes on both sides since. Shandong sacked Mano Menezes in June as the Jinan team sank to the bottom of the Chinese Super League -- not a place that the three-time champions, who finished third last season, expect to be.
The one redeeming feature from the ex-Brazil boss' reign was that he took the team to the knockout stage in Asia. Shandong had failed to do that in six of their seven previous appearances. Such a record gave Shandong a reputation of failing under pressure and falling when expectations are high. This time it could be different.
When the 2016 tournament kicked off, most of the attention was on the bigger-spending Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Suning. Both fell by the wayside early on but Shandong are still in.
And now so is Felix Magath, who immediately replaced Menezes. The club said the Brazilian struggled to adapt to the culture and brought in the German, a man who brings his own culture to which others must adapt. Brazilian international Diego Tardelli did not and was quickly moved on.
Results have improved, helped by the signings of Italian international Graziano Pelle from Southampton, who scored a stunner in Saturday's 4-1 win at Tianjin Teda, and Papiss Cisse from Newcastle.
Seoul, currently second in the K-League, have changed too. They rebuffed Chinese attempts to sign tournament top scorer Adriano in the summer but lost coach Choi Yong-Soo to Jiangsu.
New man Hwang Sun-Hong has plenty of experience as a player and coach but started slowly. Recently, the Koreans have improved and in Adriano and another Chinese Super League old boy Dejan Damjanovic, they still carry quite a goal threat.
SOUTH KOREA vs. CHINA, Sep. 1, 2018 -- World Cup qualification
The first game of the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup is massive. The hosts are gunning for a tenth appearance on the global stage and a ninth in succession. The visitors have appeared just once before, back in 2002. Korea are favourites but regardless of what happens in Seoul, there is hope in China that the team can finish in the top two in the six-team group and qualify automatically for Russia. With 20,000 fans heading across the Yellow Sea,it may just feel like a home game. In Seoul at least, China have nothing to lose and Korea must be careful. ends...
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.