Didn’t I promise you that there was going to be exciting action in the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League? And boy did we have some cracking games with some ties right in the balance and all to play for in the second leg. But before we look ahead, let’s take a sweep through the grounds and see how our favourite teams did over the week.
Diving into the West Region first!
15 goals in 4 games. That’s some entertainment and I can tell you that these teams never let you down. And the best part about this side of the draw is that almost every game is right in the balance.
Al-Jazira versus Persepolis. What a game. Salud to both teams who put such an incredible display of passion and desire. In the end, only a 96th-minute winner from Khalifa Mubarak sealed the deal for Al-Jazira but despite the defeat, Persepolis have much to cheer for as they take home two crucial away goals. After a lacklustre first half, that sprang into life just before the whistle for the breather courtesy Ali Alipour. But the lead lasted just seven minutes in the second period and with just 13 minutes to go, Romarinho put the hosts up ahead. But the game was anything but over. Godwin Mensha displayed nerves of steel as he coolly dispatched his penalty to level things up and Persepolis thought that they escaped with the draw but up stepped Mubarak and the rest is bound to go in Asian football folklore. If the second leg is anything like the first one, we’re in for a cracker of a game next week.
It was a straightforward win for Al-Sadd as Al-Ahli ended up on the losing side for the first time this season. Like it was said before the game, the team with the better defence on the night would end up winners and Sadd were alert to most dangers and managed to hold their own. But the Muhannad Asiri goal in just seconds into the second half means that it is still a finely balanced game that could go either way.
Al-Duhali remains the only team with a 100% record in the AFC Champions League so far this term as their comprehensive 4-2 victory away at Al-Ain has all but secured their place in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League. A goal and an assist performance from both Ismael Mohammed and Youssef El Arabi spurred on the away side. The defeat meant that a nine-game winning run for Al-Ain ended while Duhali’s run of 16 consecutive wins goes on.
The final game in the West Zone saw Zob Ahan secure a narrow 1-0 win over Esteghal in the 93rd minute of the game. It was a moment for the nerves as despite being on the back foot for all most the entirety of the game, Ahan managed to win courtesy of a penalty in minutes added on for stoppages in the second half. It was an ice-cold moment for Giorgi Gvelesiani as his goal tipped that balances ever so slightly in the favour of Ahan ahead of the second leg at Esteghal.
There were goals and loads of action in even the East Region of the AFC Champions League round of 16. The only game that didn’t see a goal was the all Chinese encounter between Tianjin Quanjian and Guangzhou Evergrande. But it took one of the best goalkeeping performances of the season from Cheng Zeng that kept his side in it. He produced a string of saves in both halves to deny Tianjin. But the likes of Alan, Lin Gao and Ricardo Goulart have to turn up in the second leg as Zeng might not be there to bail them out every game. Despite all this, Guangzhou enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession. Everything to play for as the focus shifts to the city of Guangzhou for the second leg but before that, both teams have the chance to get back to winning ways in the Chinese Super League this weekend.
Shanghai has practically cruised through their AFC Champions League campaign so far this campaign but everything came crashing down in Japan as Kashima Antlers ran out comfortable 3-1 winners on the night. But Shanghai has Elkeson to thank for as his goal 13 minutes from time game them the all-important away goal that allows them to stub their toe in the door frame before Kashima can close it all together. SIPG have arguably the best attack in Asia and a overturning a two-goal deficit should not be a difficult job for the likes of Oscar and Hulk.
Buriram United and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors played out an entertaining 5 goal game with the former winning courtesy of the odd goal. But the win would have been an even better one had they been able to keep out a 90th-minute goal from Jun Ho Son. The 3-2 scoreline gives Jeonbuk more than just a toehold in the game as the limelight switches back to Korea for the second leg next week.
The final game of the matchweek saw Ulsan Hyundai manage to secure a 1-0 win against the run of play against Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The goal from In-sung Kim midway through the second half tipped the scales in Ulsan’s favour but it is all to play for in the reverse fixture next week.