HONG KONG • China's world-leading transfer splurge has left two football teams with red faces, after holders Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Suning crashed out of the AFC Champions League group stage on Wednesday.
Just months after having repeatedly smashed Asia's record to hire top players, the two sides flopped in the regional competition, a route to a coveted Fifa Club World Cup spot - exiting with just two wins from six group games.
Tuesday's 1-0 Group H win over Sydney FC was inconsequential for Luiz Felipe Scolari's Guangzhou, who had already been eliminated with a game to spare. The injury-hit striker Jackson Martinez has been unable to fill the shoes of the prolific Elkeson, now with Shanghai SIPG, since arriving from Atletico Madrid.
Alex Teixeira, Asia's record signing at €50 million (S$77.5 million), also failed to lift a Jiangsu line-up that featured Ramires, the Brazil midfielder who signed from Chelsea, and his compatriot Jo, the former Manchester City striker.
On Wednesday, they were held 2-2 at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in Group E to join Guangzhou on the sidelines.
The big spenders' failure has particular resonance this week after little Leicester City stunned the glamour sides of English football to claim the Premier League title.
In January and February, Chinese teams broke the Asian record fee four times in a sudden spending spree which outstripped even the mega-rich EPL.
Recriminations are likely to be fierce, especially at Chinese champions Guangzhou, who installed a new president in a shake-up last month, reportedly because of their struggles in Asia.
The club, who have won the AFC Champions League twice in the past three years plus five consecutive Chinese league titles, were undone by losses to Sydney and Urawa Red Diamonds.
"When you look at individuals, obviously they (Guangzhou) have the better side," Urawa coach Mihailo Petrovic said last month.
"But we gained confidence by beating this Chinese giant because it proves that money isn't everything in football."
However, the challenge for Asia's top club title is not yet over for China, where footballing fortunes are now closely watched by China's rich and powerful after President Xi Jinping launched a drive to turn the sleeping giant into a world football power. They have two representatives in the last 16 knockout stage.
Sven-Goran Eriksson's Shanghai SIPG finished top of Group G to set up a last-16 clash with FC Tokyo.
Shandong Luneng, led by former Brazil coach Mano Menezes, face a difficult assignment against Sydney.