Our AFC Champions League play-off is around the corner, but who are our opponents, Shandong Luneng?
It is fitting that Adelaide United takes on Shandong Luneng in next Tuesday’s 2016 AFC Champions League play-off.
Fitting for a number of reasons. The first is that the Chinese team were the first ever Asian opponent that Adelaide faced almost a decade ago.
In March 2007, Shandong came to South Australia and picked up a 1-0 win thanks to a Michael Valkanis own goal (midfielder Wang Yangpo played in that game and should take the field again next week).
Adelaide had plenty of the play but just couldn’t find a way through and ended up finishing in third place in the group, but it was experience that stood the team in good stead for their unforgettable 2008 run to the final.
And then there is the fact that there has been a partnership between the two teams since the following year, with exchanges and invitations to pre-season tournaments.
And then thirdly, Tuesday is slap bang in the middle of the Chinese New Year celebrations and there should be a festival of football to go with whatever Adelaide is planning off the pitch.
On it, Shandong represent a Chinese Super League that is making headlines around the world.
The club, a powerhouse before the current wave of spending started in 2010, was the last club not named Guangzhou Evergrande to be champions.
It was the third of three titles in five seasons but the situation has changed in recent years.
And while Shandong does not quite have the financial muscle of Guangzhou and Shanghai SIPG, the club, owned by a state-run electric company, is still usually in the running.
It was certainly in the running for the title in the 2015 season, part of a four-way race before finishing third after the aforementioned big spenders broke away in the final furlongs.
Since then, the club has been busy. Brazilian coach Cuca has been replaced by former coach of Brazil, Mano Menezes.
It is hoped that this 53 year-old, working outside South America for the first time, can take the team to the next level.
At one time, that next level was Asia. When the club was winning Chinese domestic titles, it still flattered to deceive on the continent.
Apart from two appearances in the last eight in 2000 and 2005, the team’s performance in Asia has been disappointing with the last six appearances all ending in the group stage.
These days, there is also a fierce desire to take back the domestic crown and it remains to be seen if Shandong can challenge Guangzhou and Shanghai (as well as Beijing and a couple of others) at home while remaining competitive in Asia.
However, the resurgent Adelaide stand in the way at the moment.
And the game should be an exciting one. It won’t be easy for Adelaide’s analysers to get a handle on the new look Shandong.
The team has played just one competitve game since the new boss arrived and that was a comfortable 6-0 win over Mohun Bagan of India to qualify for this game.
One face that will be familiar to Aussie fans is that of Wang Dalei.
The goalkeeper made headlines and friends all over the world when he asked a ball boy which way to dive for a penalty during the 2015 AFC Asian Cup at Suncorp in Brisbane.
It was a successful ploy.
Then there is Hao Junmin, formerly of Schalke 04, and something of a free-kick specialist.
The captain is the main man in the middle and if he gets into his stride then the 28-year-old can make things happen – and this can be dangerous when you have Diego Tardelli in attack.
The Brazilian international did not especially impress, at least not consistently, in his first season in China.
He was on the scoresheet against the Indians though as was Walter Montillo from Argentina but the main source of goals in 2015 came from Aloiso dos Santos Goncalves, the league’s top scorer.
A tough test for Adelaide but then Shandong won’t relish the trip either. It should be quite a clash.
Adelaide United will face Shandong Luneng Taishan in the AFC Champions League Play-Off on Tuesday, 9 February at Hindmarsh Stadium. Kick off is at 7.30pm ACDT.