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Our 2016 defeat to Jeonbuk is among my worst memories, says Cai Huikang

Shanghai: The 5-0 defeat to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the 2016 AFC Champions League quarter-finals remains a dark day in Shanghai SIPG's Continental history. However, according to midfielder Cai Huikang, the three years since has prepared the club for the return meeting with the Koreans ahead of Wednesday's Round of 16.

The meeting between the champions of China PR and the champions of Korea Republic is one of the most eye-catching fixtures in the 2019 AFC Champions League's last 16 but especially so when the history between the two sides is taken into account.

In 2016, Shanghai SIPG were making their debut in the Continental competition and had impressed in the Group Stage with their attack-minded football led by the likes China PR star Wu Lei, Elkeson and Dario Conca. A Round of 16 victory over FC Tokyo saw the Chinese club into the quarter-finals at the first time of asking, but there they came up against the experienced Jeonbuk.

A goalless stalemate in Shanghai was an even affair, but the return meeting in Jeonju resulted in a comprehensive 5-0 win for the hosts who would go on to win the tournament. Three years have passed since then, but the two sides are now set to meet for the first time since the quarter-finals.

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Shanghai SIPG's China PR international Cai Huikang [pictured below, right] spoke exclusively to to reflect on the tournament so far, share his thoughts on Wednesday's match and look back on the 2016 meeting.

Hi Cai Huikang. First off, can we get your view on Shanghai SIPG's 2019 campaign so far? It has not been an easy group, with the team only qualifying in the final match of Group H.

It’s true we had a very tough group this year. For instance, we had to score late goals away at both Sydney and Kawasaki to secure important come-from-behind draws.

And, you’re correct, we only got our place in the knockout stage confirmed after defeating Ulsan Hyundai in the Matchday Six game, the last fixture in the group. But, you know, that’s life - it’s not always always easy!

Next up is Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. How difficult a match will that be and do you think it’s the toughest last 16 opponent Shanghai could have faced?

As the Korea Republic champions we definitely respect Jeonbuk as a very strong team.

In fact, they are responsible for one of my worst memories from three years ago [the 5-0 defeat in the second leg 2016 AFC Champions League quarter-final].

You mentioned that 2016 match, how much do you think Shanghai have improved since then?

At that time we had injuries to a lot of key players like Dario Conca and Elkeson, while Hulk had only just arrived at the club and was still acclimatising.


In these last three years since, I feel we have become more experienced, more mature, more intrepid and so I have a lot of confidence in our team ahead of facing Jeonbuk again.

It could be a case of the tournament's best attack (Shanghai have scored 13) vs the best defence (Jeonbuk have conceded just three) - do you see the game going this way? 

Personally, I am really proud that we have one of the best attacks in this year’s AFC Champions League. However, I do think we should recognise our defence too. We have some fantastic players in our backline who play for the national team like Yu Hai, Shi Ke and He Guai.

And of course we have our national hero Yan Junling in goal, too. So I would see both our attack and defence as very good!

Jeonbuk striker Kim Shin-wook [pictured below] is among their biggest threats, do you agree? And how will you look to defend against this player?

As you say, Kim Shin-wook is a stand-out player in Asia and I know he is very well-known in Continental football. But, although he’s physically very imposing and good in the air, we’re not scared of him.

In the Chinese Super League there are several other big strikers - for example Graziano Pelle at Shandong Luenng - so we’ve already had the experience of coming up against this type of players and know how to counter them.

How much of a disadvantage – if any – is playing the second game away, and what would you consider a good result in the first leg in Shanghai?

It’s fundamental that we win the first leg and thereby get the initiative ahead of the return meeting in Jeonju.

I promise our fans that we will do our very best this Wednesday.

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