Shanghai SIPG will make their AFC Champions League group stage debut when they take on Victory on Wednesday night in Melbourne, but they won't lack continental experience with two ACL champions in their squad.
All four of SIPG's foreign players in their ACL squad have impressed in Asia's premier club competition but it is striker Elkeson who could hog the spotlight after his match-winning performance in last year's final.
Playing for former club Guangzhou Evergrande, Elkeson struck the only goal across two legs against Al Ahli of United Arab Emirates to lift the ACL trophy for the second time.
The Brazilian and team-mate Dario Conca were also crowned Asian champions together in 2013 at Evergrande - with South Korean centre-back Kim Ju-young playing for the opposition FC Seoul - while Asamoah Gyan was the ACL's top scorer in 2014 with Al Ain.
Heading into SIPG's maiden ACL campaign, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and his staff identified top-level experience as their team's potential weakness.
"If you look at our [Chinese Super League] season last year, if you remove the internal matches against the other top-four teams, we are the champions," SIPG assistant coach Mads Davidsen told Goal Australia on Monday.
"So that tells us that we lacked to get enough points against the other top-four teams. We actually won only one game in six."
In Eriksson and Davidsen's first season with SIPG last year, the club finished second, two points off champions Evergrande.
While other CSL clubs spent huge money signing foreign players from some of Europe's biggest clubs during the January transfer window, SIPG were relatively inactive, with Elkeson their one major recruit.
"There was a minimum of risk because he knows China, he knows the Chinese league, he knows the Asian [Champions] League, which means he doesn't have to adapt to anything," Davidsen said.
"That's the challenge in China when you buy a foreign player, how does he adapt? How does his family adapt?"
Another reason SIPG weren't so active in the transfer market is that they believe in their local players.
Right winger Wu Lei has been the top-scoring Chinese player in the past two CSL seasons, while Davidsen rates goalkeeper Yan Junling as a future number one for China's national team.
Plus Davidsen, who doubles as SIPG's Under 23 coach, explained the club wants to develop its own talent, with 18-year-old Hu Jinghang the current poster-boy of the club's youth system.
Hu made his senior debut in SIPG's 3-0 ACL qualifying win over Muangthong United two weeks ago.
"He's actually quite a versatile player. He can play offensive positions [but] now we've actually tried him as a box-to-box midfielder as well, and he's looking ok," Davidsen said.
"Very eager young boy, wants to learn, wants to get better, and I think what has impressed us is… is that he's very close to the team already, he's actually closing in on the starting XI, which was a little bit of a surprise for us."
Davidsen arrived in Melbourne before the rest of the SIPG team to watch Victory's 1-0 loss to Adelaide United on Friday night.
The Danish coach claimed he had seen Victory play better previously but remains wary of Kevin Muscat's team.
"It's a team that has a clear structure and that's always difficult to play against," he said.
"The other factor that concerns me a little bit is the fact that they're in the middle of their season, so they're in shape."
Victory will host Shanghai SIPG at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Wednesday, February 24, with the two teams to meet again at Shanghai Stadium on Tuesday, April 19.
Tickets for Victory's 2016 AFC Champions League home games are on sale now. Click here for ticketing information.
Match Day 1
Melbourne Victory v Shanghai SIPG
Wednesday, February 24, 7.45pm AEDT
Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne
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