On the other side of the world to the eupohoria filled European Champions League, there is another ‘Champions League’. The AFC Champions League. For those of you unaware of this league, 35 teams participate, either though direct qualification, or if you’re from the UAE, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand or India, you have the arduous task of a playoff. But enough about the qualifications, it’s more than half-way through, so let’s here about what the competition’s up to.
A quick group update, from Group A, Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia) and Pakhator Tashkent (Uzbekistan) both qualified ahead of Saba Battery (Iran) and Al-Ahli (UAE). Group B became a three team group after Sharjah (UAE) withdrew with two matches remaining. Al-Shabab (Saudi Arabia) and Persepolis (Iran) both went through, ahead of Al-Gharafa (Qatar).
From Group C, one of the league’s most formidable clubs Al-Ittihad (Saudi Arabia) went through as well as Umm-Salal (Qatar) ahead of Al-Jazira (UAE) and Esteghal (Iran) who would be disappointed at their early exit. Group D was a surprise, after Sepahan (Iran) failed to qualify, along with Al-Shabab Al-Arabi (UAE). Al-Ettifaq (Saudi Arabia) and Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan) both went through.
Nagoya Grampus (Japan) cruised through the group stage, along with Newcastle Jets (Australia), who were the surprise package in such a tough group, as the side lost more than half of their key players. Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I (South Korea) and Beijing Guoan (China) both made early exits.
Gamba Osaka (Japan) qualified with a game to spare, along with Seoul (Korea). Shandong Luneng (China) and Sriwijaya (Indonesia) both made early, and expensive (goal-wise) exits. Kashima Antlers (Japan) and Suwon Bluewings (South Korea) both made the next round, leaving Shanghai Shenhua (China) and SAFFC (Singapore) to pack their bags. And finally, Group H, Pohang Steelers (South Korea) and Kawasaki Frontale (Japan) both qualified ahead of Tianjin Teda (China) and Central Coast Mariners (Australia).
In the round of 16, Al-Hilal lost out on penalties to Umm-Salal, following a nail biting 0-0 draw. Persepolis lost 1-0 to Bunyodkor, who will be hoping to go further than last season, after losing out to Adelaide United near the finale.
Al-Ittihad cemented themselves as strong favourites, after defeating Al-Shabab 2-1, as Pakhtakor Tashkent won by the same margin over Al-Ettifaq. Nagoya Grampus defeated Suwon Bluewings 2-1, Gamba Osaka lost 3-2 to Kawasaki Frontale, with Gamba fans feeling a bit robbed after a blatant handball in the box was not awarded. Kashima Antlers bowed out to FC Seoul 5-4 on penalties following a thrilling 2-2 draw. And finally, Pohang Steelers defeated Newcastle Jets 6-0, who will definantely not be repeating fellow countryman Adelaide United’s great feat last season.
Umm-Salal vs FC Seoul
1st leg 23/9 | 2nd leg 30/9
In this match I reckon FC Seoul should come out on top. They have good form when playing at home, and Umm-Salal doesn’t have the experience to beat them. Saying that, Brazilian’s Magno Alves and Davi can cause problems, and wreak havoc on defences. Seoul’s experience and history will work for them, as well as Kim Chi-Gon, and Jung Jo-Gook up front.
Kawasaki Frontale vs Nagoya Grampus
1st leg 23/9 | 2nd Leg 30/9
The Japanese derby. With everything on the line, I reckon it’ll be close. Maybe penalties. Nagoya Grampus have Australian Joshua Kennedy, who is very dangerous with the head. Magnum in the midfield has also shown some danger this season. He previously played for Kawasaki, who boast players such as Masura Korotsu, who is a veteran of the club. He has played 121 matches, and scored 21 goals.
Pakhator Tashkent vs Al-Ittihad
1st Leg 24/9 | 2nd Leg 30/9
Al-Ittihad are a strong team, and are hard to beat, however Pakhator have shown themselves under pressure. Al-Ittihad will have to watch out for Tashkent number 7 Darko Markovic, who wreaks havoc through the midfield. Boasting a mostly local side, Al-Ittihad has strong players, such as Mohammed Ameen, and Amine Chermiti, who previously played for Hertha BSC.
Bunyodkor vs Pohang Steelers
1st Leg 23/9 | 2nd leg 30/09
In what will be a close encounter, Bunyodkor will be fired up to go further than last year’s last minute defeat to Adelaide. Rivaldo is their key man, who has played 60 games for them scoring 25 goals. Pohang have their own charismatic Brazilian in Denilson (not the international). He has played 27 games and hit the net 9 times. Macedonian Stevica Ristic is also at the club on loan, the striker has 8 international caps, and scored 1 goal.
This AFC Champions League has produced some memorable results and clashes, so stay tuned, and I hope you enjoy watching Asia’s finest.