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Beijing club set to open its Asian Champions League campaign

JOHN DUERDEN
A security guard wearing a face mask walks through a quiet main Qianmen Street, a popular tourist spot, in Beijing, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. China reported Sunday a drop in new virus cases for the third straight day, as it became apparent that the country's leadership was aware of the potential gravity of the situation well before the alarm was sounded. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Beijing Guoan is set to open its Asian Champions League campaign while three other Chinese clubs are still excluded from the continental soccer competition because of the viral outbreak that emerged in China and has killed more than 1,770 people.

Major sports events in China, including the Formula One Grand Prix and the athletics world indoor championships, have been postponed while authorities try to contain the deadly outbreak. The Asian Football Confederation ruled that Shanghai SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua couldn't play matches in the continental club competition until late April.

But after being in a training camp in South Korea since last month, the Beijing Guoan squad faces Chiangrai United in northern Thailand on Tuesday.

The 2019 Chinese Super League runners-up have been cleared to travel and be involved in Chiangrai’s first ever home game in the tournament.

“Of course, our preparation has not been the same this year as before and the situation in China is very serious,” Beijing’s Brazilian midfielder Renato Augusto said. “Everyone is worried, but we will do our best to win this game.”

Beijing’s rustiness is a disadvantage according to coach Bruno Genesio.

“Chiangrai has played in the (domestic) league and the Champions League but this is our first game of the year,” Genesio, the former Lyon coach, said. “The importance of the game goes without saying and we have worked very hard in training and we are ready.”

The viral outbreak that began in Wuhan in December has infected more than 69,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it. It has forced organizers to reschedule many of the Asian Champions League games in the preliminary stages, meaning a staggered start to the tournament.

Melbourne Victory, which beat Chiangrai last week to go top of Group E, will travel to South Korea to take on FC Seoul.

Perth Glory is preparing for a first ever Champions League game, a trip to FC Tokyo. Coach Tony Popovic, who led Western Sydney Wanderers to the 2014 continental title, insists that his players have not been distracted by the possible sale of the club to a bitcoin investment group.

"It's not affecting us, so I'm not concerned," Popovic told reporters. "It's in the media, it's news. Whenever you talk about ownership changing it's a headline. The players are fine."

Perth owner Tony Gage told fans and sponsors on Friday that a deal had not been done.

“The players are heading to Tokyo and would have read social media about their club being sold,” Sage said. ”Don’t believe fake news."

There is significant Australia interest as Sydney FC take on Yokohama F. Marinos. Yokohama is coached by Ange Postecoglou and the former coach of the Australian national team kicked off his Asian campaign last week with an impressive 2-1 win at South Korean champion Jeonbuk Motors.

“We know they're a good team and this is a good challenge for our boys, to see where we are,” Sydney coach Steve Corica said. “At the moment we're clear first in the A-League but this is another opportunity to see what the other teams are like and how we're going to cope with the Champions League this year.”

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