AFC: Usual suspects dominate Champions League group stages
Matchday 5 of the 2010-11 AFC Champions League, the premier football tournament for Asian clubs, concluded today and there are eleven teams guaranteed of their places for the knockout stages. The final matchday takes place next week with five places still up for grabs and there are some potential cliffhangers in store for those teams still involved.
Among the teams that have qualified are the South Korean trio of FC Seoul, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Bluewings with their compatriots Jeju United still in the hunt to claim one of the two spots from Group E, thus underlining the strength of the K-League which has been prevalent for the last few years. Japanese clubs have also played an important role so far with Nagoya Grampus Eight and Kashima Antlers already through to the next stage whilst Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka can still make it a quartet of qualifiers for Japanese football. Tianjin Teda will definitely fly the flag for Chinese football as they have sealed their progress but for compatriots Shandong Luneng they must wait to see if they can take second place in Group G ahead of Cerezo Osaka. It’s been yet another disappointing year for Australian football as their two representatives Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC both go out at the first hurdle.
In the west of the continent Iranian and Saudi Arabian teams will feature prominently in the knockout stages. Iranian clubs Zob Ahan and Sepahan have already secured their passage into the Round of 16 but their compatriots Persepolis have to miss out and Esteghlal’s future in the competition hangs in the balance. Al-Hilal only need a point in their final Group A match against Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa who, in turn, need to win the game in order to sneak into second place. Al-Shabab are currently second in Group D but have to face-off against group winners Zob Ahan in their final match and should the Saudis lose then UAE representatives Emirates Club could overtake them with a win against wooden spoonists Al-Rayyan. Al-Sadd will be Qatar’s lone representatives in the knockout rounds and know that they will definitely finish in the top two of Group B alongside Al-Nassr or Esteghlal. Uzbek champions Bunyodkor have also sealed their progression and are hoping to add continental silverware to compliment their domestic dominance whilst for their arch-rivals Pakhtakor an early elimination awaits.