Adelaide United have been in impressive form in the A-League of late, with 7 wins from their last 10 outings (+ 3 draws). Manager Guillermo Amor had to fend off some flak early in the season when the Reds limped to 3 draws from 8 games. But things have changed.
The criticism for straying from predecessor Josep Gombau’s easy on the eye, tiki taka style has now been silenced. In all truth, Amor’s Adelaide is only a slight departure, with players less likely to be stubbornly attempting to pass out of impossible situations.
In the January transfer window Adelaide lost passing midfielder Jimmy Jeggo and Osama Malik, but gained Stefan Mauk. The 20 year old midfielder is one of those rare Australians that looks comfortable on the ball and is reportedly being courted by clubs in Holland, Belgium and Germany. Adding to the ins, is the acquisition of former fan favourite Sergio van Dijk. The experienced striker is back from stints in Indonesia and Thailand.
Poignantly Adelaide manager Amor emphasised the importance of the match for the locals in yesterday’s press conference. “It’s a big day for us, for Adelaide, the club and our supporters, and for Australian football in general,” he said.
On the other hand, Shandong Luneng form part of the brave new world of Chinese soccer. Led by former Brazilian national team manager Mano Menezes, the east coast club were 6-0 victors last week in their first Asian Champions League play-off against Indians Mohun Bagan.
As is standard with Chinese Super League clubs, Shandong have a bevy of foreigners at their disposal. Most well known would be Argentine international Walter Montillo in midfield. Amongst their Brazilian contingent is 27 year old Aloisio. The former Sao Paulo player picked up 22 goals as Shandong nudged Beijing Guoan out of 3rd place in last year’s CSL.
Another one to watch in the orange team is Chinese national team midfielder Hao, Junmin. The 28 year old received a football education in Germany at Schalke 04 between 2009 and 2012, and he made an impression in the 2015 Asian Cup with his precision passing.
For neutrals this is probably the pick of the play-off matches in the east side of the Asian Champions League. Look out for Marcelo Carrusca, Adelaide’s midfield maestro whom a close friend of mine says is, “too good for the A-League.” Powerful Bruce Djite will be a thorn in the sides of Shandong’s less physically imposing defenders. Throw in fleet-footed fullback Tarek Elrich and the home side should just have enough to join Hiroshima, FC Seoul and Buriram in Group F of the Asian Champions League.
Betting: Adelaide United $2.60 Draw $3.40 Shandong Luneng $2.60