JDT off to a flyer in ACL 2022; Lion City Sailors get reality check being among Asia's elite

A Bergson da Silva hat-trick inspired Johor Darul Ta'zim to a 5-0 win over Guangzhou in their opening Group I match of AFC Champions League 2022 on Friday. Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

The group stage in the AFC Champions League 2022's East Zone got underway on Friday evening and there was immediately plenty of thrills and spills.

From two legitimate contenders sharing the spoils and a rising force finally opening a campaign with victory to ambitious debutants being handed a reality check, here are the five things we learned from the opening night of action in the eastern half of ACL 2022.

- Who are the East Zone's likely contenders in ACL 2022?
- ACL a test of Melbourne City, A-League credentials

JDT off to a dominant start but tougher tests lie ahead

Since they first made their ACL debut in 2019, Johor Darul Ta'zim have pulled off a handful of impressive results but too often have those come too little too late.

For the first time ever, they got a campaign off to a winning start -- and in emphatic fashion too -- as they thrashed Guangzhou 5-0, inspired by a Bergson da Silva hat-trick.

Granted, this was an understrength and youthful Guangzhou outfit that they would have been expected to see off and much tougher tests await them in the form of Kawasaki Frontale and Ulsan Hyundai, but JDT at the very least have momentum to build on and a real confidence boost ahead of their next outing on Monday.

Lion City Sailors under no illusions taking on Asia's elite

Another ambitious Southeast Asian outfit, Lion City Sailors' excitement at making their debut in Asia's premier club competition was quickly dampened as they were beaten by 2017 champions Urawa Red Diamonds 4-1.

It is hardly a shame to lose to such seasoned campaigners but the Sailors are no slouches themselves having reinforced heavily in the off-season, while also boasting a coach that has won the tournament as recently as in 2020 in Kim Do-hoon.

The Sailors would perhaps feel they could have offered more of a challenge to Urawa but there is still plenty of time to get their campaign back on track, although they can ill afford a similarly heavy loss against Daegu in two days.

BG Pathum United must be gunning for top spot

Having reached the Round of 16 last time out, Thailand's BG Pathum United will be hoping to repeat the feat in 2022 and have been handed a favourable draw in Group G.

Although Friday's 1-1 draw against Melbourne City was not a perfect start, they showed enough to suggest that finishing top and securing a guaranteed berth in the knockout round should be their target.

On paper, they should be favourites in their next three games against Jeonnam Dragons and United City (twice) and, should they indeed pick up the maximum nine points, it should put them in a strong position ahead of a rematch with Melbourne City -- who look their likeliest challengers to be Group G winners.

No separating heavyweights Frontale, Ulsan once again

When Kawasaki Frontale and Ulsan Hyundai met in the Round of 16 last season, it was a tie many believed was worthy of a final and it ultimately took a penalty shootout to separate the two.

On Friday, the result was the same again as both teams played out a 1-1 draw, with Shintaro Kurumaya's dramatic 94th-minute equaliser cancelling out Leo Souza's opener for Ulsan after 21 minutes.

The draw may not be ideal for either but considering the three best-placed runners-up in the East Zone also advance to the Round of 16, it may be far from the worst result either -- as long as they both get the job done against JDT and Guangzhou.

Daegu could pose a threat once more

While Daegu do not boast the same history in the competition as compatriots like Ulsan or Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, they have proven to hardly be pushovers at this level and performed admirably last term to reach the Round of 16.

It may not have been the most difficult of opening assignments coming up against a youthful Shandong Taishan outfit, but Daegu showed a real ruthless streak in a 7-0 rout.

Zeca was the main man with a hat-trick but with the likes of Hong Chul, Bruno Lamas and Kim Jin-hyuk all putting in impressive displays too, the K League 1 outfit could just be dark horses again in 2022.