With East Asia's top three leagues all kicking off in the next two weekends, Goal.com contributors share their thoughts on what fans can expect in the coming yearWelcome and thanks for participating in this roundtable! While we're days if not hours away from opening day in our respective leagues, the season started for a select few teams on Tuesday and Wednesday in this week's Asian Champions League action. What did you think about your country's performance?
Cesare Polenghi (J-League expert): Japanese teams were very disappointing overall; they only took four points out of 12. In particular Urawa Reds being bulldozed by Guangzhou Evergrande was a bit of a shocker, as they were a team many expected to take the competition very seriously. They were completely overwhelmed, which is very worrisome. Sanfrecce too. On the other hand, kudos to Kashiwa Reysol for coming back from China in three points. It's a rare occurrence for Japanese clubs.
Chung Mi-Hyun (K-League expert): It was fine overall, especially when considering the season only starts this weekend all four clubs gained at least a point. Seoul were the only winning team and they overwhelmed Jiangsu Sainty in their home stadium.
Jeonbuk showed problems with their teamwork, but still managed to gain one point by drawing Muangthong United 2-2 away. Suwon took a point away at Australia as well!
| Evergrande got their victory and are the majority pick for the best Chinese performer in the [ACL]
- Peter Davis, Chinese football expert
Peter Davis (CSL expert): As expected to be honest, Guangzhou Evergrande got their victory and are the majority pick for the best Chinese performer in the tournament. Beijing Guoan battled to a good point away; all the games in their group will be tough and it is important to pick up points on the road. Debutants Guizhou Renhe and Jiangsu Sainty both lost; Sainty badly but Renhe were somewhat unfortunate to lose after their pressure on Reysol.
With those matches out of the way we get to our main events. Cesare, are there any great stories to watch out for in this year's J-League?
Cesare: This year won't have much out of the ordinary, but the J.League enters its third decade, that by itself is quite an achievement. Perhaps the real novelty of this season is Gamba Osaka's first experience in the second division. Just one year ago, they were playing in the ACL.
And just over four years ago they were playing against Manchester United in the Club World Cup! How the mighty fall. Mi-Hyun, what about the K-League?
Mi-Hyun: Two teams from the K-League Classic's 14 will be relegated at the end of this year, which will make this season even more exciting. Whether Seongnam will stay in K League Classic will be interesting to watch; the 2010 ACL winners not only failed to return to the tournament in the last two years, but last year almost never won at home and barely avoided relegation.
Peter, the CSL starts next week but what can we look forward to?
Peter: Where to start? Title-wise, can Guangzhou Evergrande capture their third straight league crown while juggling a potentially successful ACL campaign? Will the likes of Dalian Aerbin, Shandong Luneng and Guangzhou R&F be in the mix come the end of the season?
Finally, apparently Didier Drogba played in China once for a side called Shanghai Shenhua who also had Nicholas Anelka. Now with shell of last season's side and a points deduction due to match fixing in 2003, they are strong relegation candidates which would be an amazing turnaround.
A lot of the people reading this may not be familiar with these leagues; what can newcomers expect?
Mi-Hyun: No team has won consecutive titles since 2003, which means every single K-League team can actually win the league! The K-League also has some interesting derbies that are defined not by locations but by various incidents in past matches; the fans are as energetic in those matches as they are when they face local rivals.
|The technical level of [J-League] players is higher than that of many European leagues, and stadiums are often full and always very lively
- Cesare Polenghi, Japanese football expert
Cesare: Well, the J.League rarely disappoints. Like the K-League, the fact that there's no favourite makes for interesting championship races. The technical level of the players is higher than that of many European leagues, and Japanese stadiums are often full and always very lively.
Peter: There's so much to enjoy about the CSL; affordable tickets, good atmospheres and rising quality on the pitch. Interest in domestic football is picking up in China, but crowds still need to improve. While they have their critics due to the money involved, Freddy Kanoute, Seydou Keita, Lucas Barrios, Yakubu... these guys are making Chinese football intriguing for locals and hopefully the interest will continue to grow.
In the grand scheme of things, what are the three leagues contributing to Asian football?
Cesare: Other than great atmospheres and the most players in Europe of any Asian country, I'd like to point out how in 20 years there has never been a single case of match-fixing in the J.League. It's a very "credible" league and there is no doubt that when other Asian leagues look up to what the J.League has achieved, that's a big lesson they can learn from.
|"[K-League clubs] have 'fighting spirit,' which manifests in tough training and hard work before and during the match"
- Chung Mi-Hyun, Korean football expert
Mi-Hyun: The K-League is a leading league of Asia, with the most ACL winners thus far. K-League clubs are very competent when it comes to running a league; but more importantly, they have 'fighting spirit,' which manifests in tough training and hard work before and during the match. Sometimes outsiders may think it a bit much, but I think this spirit should be appreciated.
Peter: A place to come to earn loads of money! (laughs) Look at Australians such as Ryan Griffiths and Ryan McGowan. Besides money though, the Chinese league is improving and hopefully the interest in the league here continues. I am actually a huge fan of bringing [notable] foreigners into leagues because hopefully fans of those players also follow the league here and that can be great in the long run.
With all that in mind, which team or player are you most looking forward to seeing this season?
Peter: Performance-wise I think Dalian Aerbin may be the ones to watch. However, I would keep an eye on Shanghai Shenhua mainly because owner Zhu Jun gave Chinese football a bad name internationally with his atrocious handling of Drogba and Anelka. If they're relegated, in my opinion it would be a deserved fate for a side who wasted a massive opportunity in having two very talented footballers.
Mi-Hyun: One interesting player to watch would be Lee Chun-Soo. He's a true talent and was expected to become the future of Korean football, but his immaturity has resulted in several clashes with coaching staff and he has been banned from playing in the K-League since 2009. In February, he was finally granted permission to play in Korea, and with Incheon United. Although he had not played for about a year, K-League fans are still looking forward to seeing whether he still has his trademark ability. expect to see whether he's still got his skills.
Cesare: As a team I'd pick Cerezo Osaka, the only J1 team left in the Kansai region. They have possibly been the best club in Japan in fostering talent: Shinji Kagawa, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Takashi Inui, Kim Bo-kyung all came out of Cerezo. This year, at least so far, they've managed to keep their best youngsters and added some interesting players to the roster.