Zall, who were forced into exile for 104 days after the virus emerged in the city late last year, face newly promoted Qingdao Huanghai behind closed doors in Suzhou, near Shanghai, on July 25.

Fabio Cannavaro's champions Guangzhou Evergrande play FA Cup winners Shanghai Shenhua in the season opener earlier the same day in the northeastern city of Dalian.

The CSL is split into two groups for the virus-delayed season, in Dalian and Suzhou, as part of a drastically revamped formula designed to prevent the spread infections.

Players and staff will have their movements severely restricted during the first phase of the season, and will only see stadiums, training pitches and their hotel for at least two months.

All matches will take place behind closed doors, in line with football leagues across the globe that are attempting to restart.

The CSL was supposed to begin on February 22, but was indefinitely postponed in January, becoming one of the earliest sporting victims of the crisis.

Guangzhou head coach Cannavaro, a World Cup winner for Italy as a player, is concerned about the fitness of former Barcelona midfielder Paulinho and fellow Brazilian Anderson Talisca.

Both were stranded in Brazil because of virus travel restrictions before recently returning to China, with Talisca only just finishing a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

"Paulinho took part in 10 training sessions, eight of them were about body training, and Talisca has yet to train with the team," said Cannavaro, according to the state Xinhua news agency.

"I think they can (only) regain their best form at the end of this season," the 2006 World Cup-winning captain said.

Most foreign players and coaches of the 16 CSL teams have now returned to China, but the 46-year-old Cannavaro said: "Most of the players did not play a competitive match since last December and some teams' foreign players are still under quarantine.

"I can say all the teams are facing many problems."

pst/dma/fox