HONG KONG (Reuters) - The competition format may have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but Guangzhou Evergrande’s dominance of the Chinese Super League looks set to continue as the eight-time champions return to action on Friday.
Fabio Cannavaro’s side take on Hebei China Fortune in Suzhou in the first leg of the quarter-finals as the business end of a CSL season disrupted by the pandemic kicks off.
Guangzhou, who have failed to win the title only once since claiming their first crown in 2011, will go into the meeting with Xie Feng’s team as favourites after a blistering performance in Group A.
The former Asian champions lost twice in 14 games, with ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho scoring nine goals, and finished eight points clear to set up the meeting with Hebei, who qualified for the knockout rounds with a fourth-place finish in Group B.
Hebei’s hopes have been dampened by the loss of defender Zhang Chengdong due to a knee injury, while striker Ricardo Goulart, on loan from Evergrande, is unable to play against his parent club.
Guangzhou are favourites to progress and face the winner of the meeting between Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guoan in the semis.
Shandong are under new management after Li Xiaopeng was replaced by his former assistant Hao Wei following the completion of the group phase.
Former champions Shanghai SIPG, who won the title in 2018, and cross-city rivals Shanghai Shenhua meet on Sunday with Chinese media reporting fans will be permitted to attend.
Chongqing Lifan or Jiangsu Suning await in the semi-finals.
The teams who finished in the bottom four positions in each group go head-to-head in playoffs to determine which two sides are relegated.
Rafa Benitez’s Dalian Pro take on Shijiazhuang Ever Bright while Shenzhen FC, now coached by Jordi Cruyff, meet Tianjin Teda. Guangzhou R&F face Qingdao Huanghai and Wuhan Zall play Henan Jianye.
Editing by Peter Rutherford
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.