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Bio-secure bubble experience an advantage for Shanghai SIPG in AFC Champions League, says Shi Ke 


Doha: The unique atmosphere of a bio-secure bubble will be new for many players in the 2020 AFC Champions League, but Shanghai SIPG’s Shi Ke believes his side’s experience of a similar set-up in the Chinese Super League will give Vitor Pereira’s team an edge in the quest for a place in the knockout rounds.

Shanghai SIPG started their campaign in Doha with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Sydney FC in Group H on Thursday to give the 2018 Chinese Super League champions the perfect start in their attempt to reach the last 16 of this year’s competition.

And defender Shi believes the familiarity garnered in this year’s domestic competition with life in a strictly controlled environment will be a significant benefit for him and his teammates.

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“We came here directly from the Chinese Super League,” he told the-AFC.com. “The last game was on November 11 and then we came to the AFC Champions League, so we’re all in game mode. We’ve already adapted to being in a closed environment, the high intensity and the intensive competition.

“I believe we can achieve a very good result in the AFC Champions League because we’ve laid a good foundation over a period of time and, although we didn’t get the results we desired to win the Chinese Super League, we’ve had a period of self-assessment and we’ve adjusted psychologically.

“So I’m fully confident we can achieve a good result in the AFC Champions League.”

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

All four Chinese clubs playing in the group phase of the 2020 competition know how it feels to play in the kind of environment they are experiencing in Qatar after the Chinese Super League season was reformatted to allow play to be completed despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league’s 16 teams were divided into two groups which were each played in separate bio-secure venues before the top four teams in each of the eight-team sections reconvened to play off for the final places in the league standings.

SIPG, who won the Chinese title in 2018 and had high hopes of reclaiming the trophy, had a disappointing showing, finishing fourth after losing to Jiangsu Suning in the semi-finals before slipping to defeat at the hands of Beijing FC in the third-place playoff.

Despite that, Shi is confident SIPG can make an impression in an AFC Champions League group that also features J.League champions Yokohama F Marinos as well as Sunday’s opponents, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

“I think we’re fully confident for the groupsStage because our team’s effectiveness and the integrity of the players has gone to a very high level in recent years,” he said.

“Compared with our competitors, of course they are also the champions of their respective leagues and they have great strength but, due to the situation of this season, they might have made some changes to their teams such as lacking training or competition. And I think those reasons can benefit our team.”

The central defender has been an integral part of SIPG since the club first qualified for the AFC Champions League in 2016 under former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson. He has seen Shanghai go deep into the competition ever since, without the club sealing a place in the final.

The nearest miss came in 2017, when SIPG lost 2-1 on aggregate to eventual champions Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan, and it is a defeat that still lingers in his mind more than three years later. His memories of the competition are not all negative, however.

AFC Champions League 2017 Semi-final 2nd Leg

“There are two AFC Champions League games that have left the greatest impression in my head,” Shi said. “One of them is the 2017 AFC Champions League semi-final against Urawa Red Diamonds.

“Although we lost that game, I still think we deserved to win. Even now, when we mention this game I have regrets about it. From my point of view, if we could play that game again we must do better and we must win so we can go to the final."

“The second was in Shanghai, at our home stadium. It was in the group stages of the 2016 competition against FC Tokyo. It was our first year of experiencing the AFC Champions League and Wu Lei scored the winning goal in the last minute.

“His great goal allowed us to go into the next round. It was an amazing night, the fans were screaming, the team had a crazy celebration and the atmosphere was fantastic. That has left such a strong memory.”

Shi will be hoping SIPG are celebrating again after the final of the 2020 AFC Champions League in Doha on December 19 and making even more positive memories.

Photos: AFP, AFC

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