The month of May means only one thing in Asian Football: Continental knockout football. And boy, do we have some cracking match-ups on paper in the Round of Sixteen of the 108 AFC Champions League.
Let’s dive into the West region first.
United Arab Emirates’ Al-Jazira welcome one of the three Iranian teams still in the competition with Persepolis travelling to the Emirate. The home side had an inconsistent run in the group stages and only sneaked into the knockouts on the head-to-head tiebreaker with Qatari side Al-Gharafa.
Persepolis, however, pretty much cruised through their group and suffered their sole reverse to Al-Sadd. Persepolis is definitely favourites heading into this one and the Emirati side has their work cut out on the defensive end having conceded a poor 9 goals in 6 games.
The other team from Persepolis’ group Al-Sadd welcome Saudi side Al-Ahli. The latter are still unbeaten in the competition and have scored 9 goals in their games. This one promises to be closely fought affair with both teams playing attractive football. Having conceded 4 and 5 goals each and scoring freely, the team with the better defence on the night will in all likelihood progress.
The third game of the West Zone is an all Iranian clash between Zob Ahan and Esteghal. The former had to rely on their head to head results against Uzbek side Lokomotiv Tashkent to progress while Esteghal qualified as comfortable winners of their group. However, Ahan finished a point above their opponents in the recently concluded Persian Gulf Pro League. Esteghal’s defence will be put to an acid test against one of the more prolific teams in the League. Another can’t-miss fixture.
The last game of the West Region sees Al-Alin welcome Al-Duhail on May 8th. Duhail is the only side in the competition that has won all their game so far. Al-Alin is no pushover however and is yet to taste defeat in this season’s competition.
Chinese Super League fans have a lot to cheer for as three of the four teams from the group stage has progressed to the knockout stage.
In the first game, perennial Chinese Champions make the short trip to Tianjin Quanjian. The matchup pits current Evergrande boss Fabio Cannavaro against his former employers. Cannavaro was at the helm as Quanjian went from second-tier football to continental football on the biggest of a stage in just over a season. Guangzhou suffered a shock reverse at Dalian in their last outing while it has been a season to forget for Quanjian in the league so far having taken just 8 points from 8 games. Guangzhou has a great chance to get their season back on track and build momentum while Tianjin has something to fight for after their poor start to the campaign.
Thai powerhouse welcome Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on May 8th. Jeonbuk cruised through qualification and won 5 out their 6 games. Buriram, on the other hand, wasn’t assured of qualification heading into the final match week of the group stages. Jeonbuk favourites going into this tie on paper but make no mistake, Buriram United have what it takes to progress.
In the battle between the South Korean teams sees Ulsan Hyundai host Suwon Samsung Bluewings. It will be a feisty affair between the two top teams from the Southern side of the peninsula. Jeonbuk has a point to prove in this season’s competition after being banned from last season’s Champions League due to the now infamous bribery scandal. They just a year removed from winning their second Champions League crown after having beaten Al-Ain 3-2 in 2016. This game promises to be a high scoring affair as the teams together have plundered an incredible 37 goals in their 12 games combined. Entertainment on the cards.
Super League pace-setters Shanghai SIPG powered by the Brazilian due of Oscar and Hulk make the short trip Japan to face Kashima Antlers. Having secured qualification after 4 games, SIPG fielded slightly weakened teams but managed to hold onto top spot in their group ahead of Ulsan.
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