Struggling Tianjin relying on Pato for Asian glory
By JOHN DUERDEN
Aug. 27, 2018
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Tianjin Quanjian will be looking to Alexandre Pato in the quarterfinal of the 2018 Asian Champions League against Kashima Antlers of Japan on Tuesday as the Chinese Super League club is without other star imports Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste.
China's sole remaining participant in the tournament lost Witsel against its will earlier in August after German club Borussia Dortmund met the Belgian international's release clause of 20 million euros ($23.3 million). French striker Modeste is involved in a contract dispute with the club and has not played since Aug 1.
Pato, formerly of AC Milan and Chelsea, has scored 10 goals in 14 league games this season, but with last weekend's victory a first in seven games for Tianjin, coach Paulo Sousa is under pressure.
"We have had to change the way we play and our strategy because of the changes in personnel," said Sousa, the former Portuguese international who won back-to-back UEFA Champions Leagues with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund in 1996 and 1997.
"Our lineup has been incomplete, including red and yellow cards and injuries."
Tianjin is in its first appearance in the continental competition and knocked out Chinese champion Guangzhou Evergrande in the second round in May. Eight-time Japanese champion Kashima defeated Shanghai SIPG in the previous round.
"Japanese players are very good technically and the pace of the game will be fast," added Sousa. "We have to defend the center and wings as well as possible and I am sure we will produce the right performance."
The other east Asian clash is an all South Korean affair between Jeonbuk Motors and Suwon Bluewings, two teams with four continental titles between them.
The game also features the two highest scoring strikers in Champions League history. Lee Dong-guk of Jeonbuk has found the target 36 times in the tournament with Suwon's Dejan Damjanovic scoring just four fewer.
"He is unbelievable and keeps pushing me to be better and better," Damjanovic said. "He's doing great things with Jeonbuk but I will do my best to catch him. I'm happy that the two top scoring strikers in Asia are from the K-League and I know that I will have my chances to catch him for the record.
Jeonbuk, champion in 2016, is returning to the tournament following its ban in 2017 after a former club scout was found guilty of bribing referees in 2013.
"Dejan is one of the best foreign players in K-League history," Lee said. "I will do my best to compete with him in the ACL and the K-League. However, this quarterfinal will be won by me and my team Jeonbuk."
In west Asia — the tournament being divided into two geographic zones until the final — both games are between Qatari and Iranian teams.
Al Sadd, the last west Asian winner back in 2011, has former Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez in midfield, and travels to Tehran to take on Esteghlal.
In Doha on Tuesday, Al-Duhail meets Persepolis.
The second legs of the quarterfinals will take place in the week beginning Sep. 17.