Defending champions Western Sydney Wanderers and 2013 finalists FC Seoul are amongst the sides that have their AFC Champions League hopes in the balance with Tuesday’s final round of group stage fixtures set to feature a series of nail-biting climaxes to the first phase of the continental competition.
After losing to Kashima Antlers a fortnight ago at Parramatta Stadium, Western Sydney go into their final showdown with Group H winners Guangzhou Evergrande five points behind the 2013 champions from China and a point adrift of Kashima and FC Seoul, who currently share second place.
And Tony Popovic’s side firstly need a win having lost 3-2 at home to the Chinese side earlier in the campaign, but also need the match in Japan between Kashima and FC Seoul to be a draw to guarantee a return to the Round of 16, although Western Sydney will be without Kearyn Baccus, Tanaka Yusuke and Kerem Bulut due to suspension.
But the victor in Ibaraki between Kashima and FC Seoul, should there be one, would take the runners-up place in Group H and eliminate their opponent as well as Western Sydney.
“Kashima are a strong team offensively and have won their past two games. We know that it is going to be a tough task for us, but we will keep going to the end and will not give up,” said FC Seoul coach Choi Yong-soo.
“We are confident to go to Japan and get the result we need to progress from this group of death.”
Choi’s selection options, though, will not include defender Kim Jin-kyu who is ruled out due to suspension.
Elsewhere, with two-time Asian champions Suwon Samsung having already qualified for the Round of 16, the other entrant into the knockout stages from Group G will either be China’s Beijing Guoan or Brisbane Roar of Australia.
Gregorio Manzano’s Beijing need just a point from the meeting with Suwon in Korea Republic to secure progress with the Chinese Super League side currently holding a three point advantage, although Lang Zheng, Ha Dae-sung and Yu Dabao are ruled out due to suspension.
Brisbane, who will be without suspended defender Corey Brown, need to defeat already eliminated Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in Australia and hope that Beijing slip up against Suwon.
In Group D, Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates must beat already eliminated Tractorsazi Tabriz of Iran in Dubai and hope group winners Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia overcome Nasaf with the Uzbek side currently holding two point advantage.
“It was a good game, but we our mission is yet to be completed,” said Nasaf coach Ruzikul Berdiev with his side seeking their first-ever appearance in the last 16 having beaten Tractorsazi 2-1 in Iran last month. “There’s one more game left, so we need to keep trying.”
Finally, Al Hilal and 2011 winners Al Sadd will face off at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium to determine the winner of Group C with both sides already having qualified for the last 16 a fortnight ago.
A draw would be enough for Qatar’s Al Sadd having earlier beaten the 2014 finalists 1-0 at home, while Giorgos Donis’ Al Hilal must win despite the suspension of striker Nassir Al Shamrani.
And with Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan and Lokomotiv of Uzbekistan already eliminated, the duo will play for pride and third place at Ghadir Stadium in Ahwaz.
CAPTION – Defending champions Western Sydney Wanderers must beat China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday to keep their qualification hopes alive in Group H.