With established giants Guangzhou Evergrande having made an early exit, however, the chance is there for a new side from the emerging Chinese Super League to make an impact on a continental stage.
As the money flows into the CSL, it is likely sides will reach the latter stages of the ACL on an increasingly regular basis.
However, with two teams in the quarter-finals for the first-time, this is very much unchartered territory.
In Sven-Goran Eriksson and Felix Magath, Shanghai SIPG and Shandong Luneng could not wish for more experienced coaches.
But for majority of the players, a fresh frontier awaits.
While CSL spending grows, the K League has continued to make cutbacks yet their sides still excel in the ACL. In recent years, a Korean side has invariably reached the final with both FC Seoul (2013) and Jeonbuk Motors (2011) making it.
There are storylines aplenty, with a narrative of K League tradition against the CSL’s nouveau-riche difficult to avoid.
With the star-studded ranks at Shandong boosted by Papiss Cisse and Graziano Pelle this summer and Hulk arriving at SIPG, the two Chinese participants have spared no expense.However, with neither setting the world alight in domestic action – as Shandong fight an unlikely relegation battle – there is plenty of reason for optimism for their more-settled opponents.
Jeonbuk Motors v Shanghai SIPG
If it were a game decided by past pedigree, 2006 winners Jeonbuk would advance with ease past their ACL debutant opponents.
However, SIPG’s spending means they demand respect.
Unfortunately for the Chinese side, playmaker Dario Conca limped out of his side’s game this past weekend and has been ruled out of the tie. Record signing Hulk is also sidelined.
With both sides at full strength it would perhaps have been Shanghai heading into the clash as favourites, however the advantage has now very much swung in the favour of their experienced opponents.
FC Seoul v Shandong Luneng
Despite a woeful league campaign, Shandong find themselves in the last four of the East Asian-side of the Champions League but will face Asian royalty in FC Seoul.
A big summer of transfer market activity saw the arrivals of Cisse – who is not registered for the ACL – and Pelle, but results have failed to noticeably pick up. Magath has a major re-building job to do.
Seoul snuck through versus Urawa Red Diamonds in May, but were dominant when the two quarter-finalists met in the groups.
Shandong have made many alterations since those clashes, including Magath’s arrival. But Seoul will hope their continued stability under impressive young manager Choi Yong-Soo wins the day.
Christopher Atkins is a player representative and registered intermediary for RWMG Sports, based in Guangzhou, China.
Know more about Sport360 Application