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Analysis: Shanghai SIPG capitalise on Sydney's missed chances to secure full points in AFC Champions League opener

Doha: Shanghai SIPG got off to a winning start to their 2020 AFC Champions League (East) Group H campaign by seeing off Sydney FC 2-1 at Khalifa International Stadium on Thursday but the result could have been very different. 

The sides went into the match having twice met in the 2019 group stage, playing out entertaining 3-3 and 2-2 draws, and it was the Australian champions who went into the interval a goal to the good having taken an early lead through Trent Buhagiar.

Vitor Pereira's team fought back after the restart, though, as Li Shenglong proved the hero, bagging a pair of headers to seal a 2-1 victory to ensure the Chinese Super League side picked up all three points and condemned Sydney to two defeats in three Group H matches.

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Flying start but Sydney made to pay

The two teams went into the game with vastly different preparations for the tournament's resumption, Shanghai having just completed their 2020 CSL season and Sydney having not had any competitive action since winning the A-League title at the end of August. But it was the Australians who looked sharper from the off as they came flying out of the blocks while their opponents looked lethargic.

An early indication of their intentions came in the fourth minute when Paulo Retre threaded a lovely through-ball for Buhagiar only for Kosta Barbarouses to fail to convert his striker partner's centre with the goal at his mercy. Minutes later Barbarouses made amends, however, teeing up Buhagiar to open the scoring as Steve Corica's men got off to a dream start.

More was to come from Sydney as Retre struck the post with a header before the 15-minute mark. But, as Rhyan Grant later alluded to, the New South Wales side were made to pay for their missed chances, Barbarouses missing another gilt-edged opportunity 10 minutes into the second half prior to Shanghai's equaliser.

Indeed, as positive as some of Sydney's play was, particularly given their lack of action in recent months, Buhagiar's goal was the only shot they got on target in eight attempts. With their top scorer from the past two seasons Adam le Fondre on loan at Mumbai City, those in Qatar will need to improve in front of goal should they hope to have any chance of advancing to the knockout rounds.

Mooy adds further quality

Aaron Mooy's last AFC Champions League appearance was back in May 2014 when Western Sydney Wanderers defeated Sanfrecce Hiroshima to progress to the last eight en route to winning the title. The Australian left for Melbourne City ahead of the quarter-finals before going on to to enjoy a successful few years in England. On Thursday, he made an impressive return to Asian club football.

With Shanghai's main playmaker Oscar still recovering from injury all eyes were on Mooy and, although his style contrasts greatly to that of the Brazilian's, the 30-year-old offered plenty to show he can be an equally effective creative force in a side that will be desperate to make up for a disappointing finish to the Chinese Super League.

Always showing for the ball, Mooy posted the highest number of touches on the pitch (99), made more passes (71) than anyone on his side and delivered more than double the number of crosses (10) into the box than anyone else.

Vision has always been among Mooy's biggest assets and just after the hour he sent in a beautifully weighted cross from the right to give Li a chance that would have been harder to miss than score. With Oscar due to return in the games ahead, Shanghai will feel they have the quality in midfield to go deep into the tournament.

Off-colour Hulk

Prior to the resumption of the AFC Champions League (East), Shanghai forward Hulk had not scored from open play in 10 CSL matches, with his three goals coming from the penalty spot. On Thursday, the big Brazilian looked far from his best as he struggled to make inroads into the game.

Of all the outfield players that started the match, only Buhagiar had fewer touches and passes than Hulk's 30 and 16 respectively. Perhaps more worryingly, the forward, who is never shy to shoot on sight, managed just one shot on goal (which was blocked by a defender) in his 75 minutes on the pitch.

Group H - MD1: Sydney FC 1-2 Shanghai SIPG FC

At his best the 34-year-old is a headline grabber, a player who blends power, pace and skill and has the ability to score the most spectacular of goals. In 27 games in the competition since moving to Shanghai in 2016 Hulk has been on the scoresheet 18 times, with a nine-game scoring run en route to the 2017 semi-finals one of the AFC Champions League's most impressive individual feats in recent years.

It's been widely circulated that the completion of the 2020 edition in Qatar could be his final act in a Shanghai shirt and, if that is the case, the hugely popular figure will be desperate to give SIPG fans one more lasting memory. For the neutral, too, an on-song Hulk would only help light up a tournament at the end of a difficult year.

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