Guo'an to kick off Asian campaign

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Beijing Guo'an will kick off its Asian Champions League campaign today despite three other Chinese clubs having to wait until April to play their openers due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Having trained in South Korea for the last month, Guo'an's opening match in Thailand will go ahead as planned, unlike the games involving Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai SIPG and Shanghai Shenhua, which have been postponed by the Asian Football Confederation.

With authorities endeavoring to contain the deadly outbreak, numerous other major sports events in China have also fallen victim to the virus epidemic, including Formula 1's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, as well as the start of the new Chinese Super League soccer season.

However, the AFC ruled that Guo'an, last year's CSL runner-up, could travel to northern Thailand to face Chiangrai United in its Group E opener.

"Of course, our preparation has not been the same this year as before and the situation in China is very serious," Beijing's Brazilian midfielder Renato Augusto said."Everyone is worried, but we will do our best to win this game."

With uncertainty still surrounding the start of the new CSL season back home, Guo'an coach Bruno Genesio is concerned his team could be a little rusty for the match.

"Chiangrai has played in the (Thai) league and the Champions League but this is our first game of the year," said the French former Lyon boss.

"The importance of the game goes without saying and we have worked very hard in training and we are ready."

The CSL was originally scheduled to get underway on Feb 22, with a new kick-off date yet to be confirmed.

In late January, the Chinese Football Association said it would "continue to maintain close communication with national authorities, determine the timing of each season's events in combination with the actual development of the epidemic situation and make reasonable adjustments to the system, schedule and scale of some events when necessary".

Last Tuesday, Melbourne Victory and Chiangrai got Group E underway, with the Australian side registering a 1-0 home win. Melbourne is also in action today, taking on FC Seoul in South Korea.

In Shanghai Shenhua's Group F, Perth Glory will play its first ever Champions League game tonight, against FC Tokyo in Japan.

Sydney coach Tony Popovic, who led Western Sydney Wanderers to the 2014 continental title, insists that his players have not been distracted by the possible sale of the club to a bitcoin investment group.

"It's not affecting us, so I'm not concerned," Popovic said. "It's in the media, it's news. Whenever you talk about ownership changing it's a headline. The players are fine."

Perth owner Tony Gage told fans and sponsors on Friday that a deal had not yet been done.

"The players are heading to Tokyo and would have read social media about their club being sold,"Sage said. "Don't believe fake news."

In Shanghai SIPG's Group H, Sydney FC will take on Yokohama F. Marinos on Wednesday. The Japanese team is coached by former Australia national team coach Ange Postecoglou, whose side kicked off its Asian campaign last week with a 2-1 win at South Korean champion Jeonbuk Motors.

"We know they're a good team and this is a good challenge for our boys, to see where we are," Sydney coach Steve Corica said. "We're clear first in the A-League but this is another opportunity to see what the other teams are like and how we're going to cope."

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