Jiangsu, Nagoya Grampus, Pohang Steelers and Ratchaburi - All you need to know about JDT's 2021 AFC Champions League opponents

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JDT's opponents, AFC Champions League 2021, 23 Feb 2021
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Another big season in the AFC Champions League awaits JDT and here's what you need to know about their opponents in Group G!

  1. Nagoya Grampus (Japan)
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    Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

    How did they qualify - Unlike the Malaysia Super League, the J1 played out their full fixtures for the 2020 season and Nagoya finished third behind Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka, which would only have guaranteed them a playoff spot. However, due to the fact that Kawasaki also ended up as the Emperor Cup champions, the third-placed team in the league received the automatic spot with the fourth-placed side earning a place in the playoff instead.

    New signings - Yasuki Kimoto (CB, Cerezo Osaka), Ryoya Morishita (RB, Sagan Tosu), Kazuki Nagasawa (MF, Urawa), Yoichiro Kakitani (LW, Cerezo), Manabu Saito (LW, Kawasaki Frontale), Mu Kanazaki (ST, Sagan)

    The coach - Italian Massimo Ficcadenti is the one who is in charge. Appointed back in 2019, he has overseen a massive improvement in Nagoya's fortunes in pushing them from a 13th-place finish in his first season to a third-place finish. Plenty of experience in Italy with Reggina, Cesena and Cagliari, Ficcadenti is also well remembered for being the coach who oversaw the rise to prominence of Radja Nainggolan.

    Past ACL campaigns - Have never won the competition before, having only competed on three other occasions prior to this one. Best-ever outing was in 2009 when they reached the semi-final. Nagoya last appeared in the ACL back in 2012 where they were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Adelaide United.

    Interesting fact - Nagoya were the second-last club that Arsene Wenger has ever coached or managed. The Frenchman spent 15 months with the Japanese club before taking up a role with Arsenal in the Premier League. One of Wenger's players during his time at Nagoya was Dragan Stojkovic, who also ended up at the coach of Nagoya in 2008.

  2. Jiangsu FC (China)
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    Jiangsu FC (China)

    How did they qualify - Probably the big favourites heading into the start of the group as Jiangsu are the only team in this Group G who won their domestic league title last season. A change of format to the Chinese Super League in 2020 came about due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the league being split into two groups. Even though Jiangsu only finishing second behind Guangzhou Evergrande in Group A, the tables were turned in the Championship stage where Jiangsu won 2-1 in the final to lift their first ever CSL title.

    New signings - None yet.

    The coach - It was Romanian Cosmin Olaroiu last season who guided them to an impressive title, but the 51-year-old is rumoured to be on the way out. Olaroiu first came over to Asia as a coach in 2007 and spent time with various clubs in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates before his time at Jiangsu, where he took over from Fabio Capello in 2018

    Past ACL campaigns - Only three previous campaigns for Jiangsu in this competition, which were in 2013, 2016 and 2017. The last appearance four years ago was the best-ever outing when they reached the last 16, only to lose to fellow Chinese club Shanghai SIPG in a cracking two-legged affair that finished 5-3 to the latter.

    Interesting fact - Their signing of Ramires from Chelsea back in 2016 for a fee of £25 million was one of the big moves that sparked a whole revolution of big-name players moving from Europe to China. The Brazilian was only 29 years old then and very much still in the peak of his powers when he made the decision to leave the Premier League for the CSL.

  3. Pohang Steelers (South Korea)
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    Pohang Steelers (South Korea)

    How did they qualify - Technically, they have not made it into Group G yet as there's still a play-off match to be played between them and Thailand's Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC. Pohang finished third in the K-League 1 last season behind Jeonbuk and Ulsan to qualify for the play-off match.

    New signings - Lim Sang-hyub (LW, Suwon Bluewings), Lee Hyun-il (ST, Seongnam FC), Shin Jin-ho (MF, Ulsan ), Kim Seong-ju (MF, Incheon), Shin Kwang-hoon (RB, Gangwon FC)

    The coach - The 2020 Manager of the Year in the K-League, Kim Gi-dong has had a long association with Pohang, having also played for club in the past. During the nine seasons he spent with the club from 2003 to 2011, he won the AFC Champions League, also spending a season playing alongside 2002 World Cup legend Seol Ki-hyeon.

    Past ACL campaigns - If Jiangsu have the pedigree then Pohang definitely have the history. The joint-most winners in the history of the ACL with Saudi's Al-Hilal, Pohang have won the competition three times in 1996-97, 1997-98 and 2009. 

    Interesting fact - It will be a testing 2021 season for Pohang, who lost their most dangerous duo from last season. Russian Stanislav Iljutcenko who plundered in 19 goals and was in the league's Team of the Year has moved to Jeonbuk, while Serbian midfielder Aleksandar Palosevic, who hit 14 goals, has also decided to take up an offer elsewhere in the shape of FC Seoul.

  4. Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC (Thailand)
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    Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC (Thailand)

    How did they qualify - Still need to get past Pohang to be part of the group, the manner in which Ratchaburi qualified to the play-off is another reminder of just how weird the 2020 season was for everybody. The Thai League 1 was changed to start later in 2020 and only end in May of 2021, but to ensure they have participants in the 2021 ACL, results of the first half of the season were taken into account. By virtue of being in fourth at the midway point of the season, Ratchaburi managed to snatch this play-off spot.

    New signings - Simon Dia (ST, Chainat Hornbill), Lee Jae-sung (DF, Incheon United), Luke Woodland (DF, Kuala Lumpur), Justin Baas (DF, Jong AZ), Curt Dizon (FW, Azkal Development Team)

    The coach - Serbian Milos Joksic only took over at Ratchaburi in the middle of November last year, but lasted barely more than a month before he resigned from the job. Somchai Maiwilai took charge as caretaker for the second time in 2020 as The Dragons continue their search for a permanent head coach. 

    Past ACL campaigns - Should they be able to oust Pohang, this will be Ratchaburi's first-ever appearance in the ACL competition.

    Interesting fact - Former Serie A, Bundesliga and European Championship winner Christian Ziege was once on the books at Ratchaburi as the head coach and created a lot of hype going into the 2018 season. But this was a shortlived association as Ziege departed by mutual consent after only two games played.