Two-time Asian champions Seongnam FC of Korea Republic and 2013 AFC Champions League winners Guangzhou Evergrande from China are set to face off in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie on Wednesday with both sides looking to lay a foundation for another tilt at continental honours.
Seongnam, who were known as Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma when they won the AFC Champions League in 2010 to add to their 1995 Asian Club Championship crown, will entertain Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou at Tancheon Sports Complex after finishing second in Group F behind 2008 winners Gamba Osaka having lost 2-1 to the Japanese treble winners on the final Matchday.
Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou, meanwhile, comfortably won Group H ahead of Korea’s FC Seoul to return to the knockout stage for a fourth consecutive year.
“We were in a tough group and qualified with one round left and I am very happy with it. We’ve been through lots of change this season and overcame many difficulties, but still we managed to qualify as the winner of the group,” said Italian FIFA World Cup winning captain Cannavaro following the culmination of the group stage.
“But at last I think if we can show our quality, we can decide the result. We should focus on ourselves in every match.”
Seongnam are appearing in the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League for a fifth time after losing at the same stage in 2012 to Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor.
“Guangzhou Evergrande have good players, but it is hard to make a full analysis on them just yet, so I want to have a good preparation for these matches,” said Seongnam coach Kim Hak-bum, who saw forward Hwang Ui-jo and defender Kim Tae-youn suffer injuries against Gamba.
“I am also hoping to get our injured players back in time for those games as I expect the tournament to be tougher as it progresses.”
Fellow K-League Classic side FC Seoul will also be in action on Wednesday with the 2014 semi-finalists entertaining Gamba in their first leg at Seoul World Cup Stadium, albeit without suspended Spanish defender Osmar Barba.
FC Seoul, who also reached the 2013 final, secured their place in the knockout stages as Group H runners-up after Colombian midfielder Mauricio Molina scored a last-gasp winner to ensure passage at the expense of beaten opponents Kashima Antlers a fortnight ago in Japan.
And the Korean capital city club will again face Japanese opposition in the Round of 16 after Gamba secured top spot in Group F ahead of Seongnam to book their meeting with Choi Yong-soo’s side.
In the West, there will be an all-Emirati tie between United Arab Emirates champions Al Ain and domestic rivals Al Ahli, who finished as runners-up in Group D to ensure their first-ever appearance in the knockout stage.
Group B winners Al Ain, who reached the semi-finals last year, will be without a pair of suspended midfielders in Helal Saeed and Slovakia international Miroslav Stoch, while Al Ahli’s UAE goalkeeper Majed Naser is also ruled out.
“We are happy to qualify for the knockout stage as group winners,” said Zlatko Dalic, coach of inaugural AFC Champions League winners Al Ain, following their 3-0 victory over Iran’s Naft Tehran last time out.
“We got 12 points, which is better than we achieved in the previous edition of the competition and this means that things will be promising in the next period.”
The final fixture in the first round of knockout ties sees Naft Tehran entertain Saudi side Al Ahli after the Iranian play-off winners continued their fine debut in the AFC Champions League with qualification for the last 16 as Group B runners-up.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli topped Group D with a game to spare ahead of Emirati namesakes Al Ahli and the 2012 runners-up are making their fourth appearance in the knockout stage.
CAPTION – Two-time Asian champions Seongnam FC will face fellow former continental champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the first leg of their AFC Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.