Last year’s finalists Al Hilal as well as former continental champions Al Sadd, Guangzhou Evergrande and Suwon Samsung are all in the hunt for a place in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League next week with Tuesday’s penultimate round of group stage fixtures set to play a defining role on the knockout stage line-up.
Currently sitting in second place in Group C, two-time Asian champions Al Hilal travel to Uzbekistan to face Lokomotiv with Giorgos Donis’ side well aware that victory will ensure a place in the last 16 for a seventh consecutive season.
Though buoyed by their 2-0 victory over Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan a fortnight ago, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal will face a tough test against a Lokomotiv side who must win to guarantee their continental campaign continues until Matchday Six.
“I’m very happy for the result (on Matchday Five) because this is our second win in the competition and I want to congratulate the players for their great effort they have put in,” said Donis after seeing goals from Nassir Al Shamrani and Yasir Al Shahrani end Foolad’s 11-game unbeaten run in the AFC Champions League earlier this month.
Al Hilal, though, will be without striker Al Shamrani due to suspension against Lokomotiv, while defender Islom Tukhtakhujaev will also miss the fixture for the home side.
Also in Group C, leaders Al Sadd could join Al Hilal in the last 16 should the 2011 winners beat Iran’s Foolad in Doha.
Victory for Al Sadd combined with a draw or better for Al Hilal against Lokomotiv would be enough to send the Qatari side into the knockout stage, while a draw would also be enough should Al Hilal win in Tashkent.
Anything but all three points in Doha for Dragan Skocic’s Foolad, though, would mean the end of any hopes of a second consecutive Round of 16 appearance for the Iranian champions.
In Group H, 2013 winners Guangzhou will look to cement their place in the last 16 with at least a point against FC Seoul while a win over the Koreans, or a draw and a failure by defending champions Western Sydney Wanderer to beat Japan’s Kashima Antlers, would mean the Chinese Super League champions win the group with a game to spare.
But Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro must do without suspended midfielders Zou Zheng and Huang Bowen, though, while Brazilian striker Alan also remains out with injury.
Should holders Western Sydney suffer defeat at home to Kashima they would be eliminated if FC Seoul were to emerge with all three points against Guangzhou, and coach Tony Popovic will be without the services of suspended defender Antony Golec for the visit of the Ibaraki-based club to Parramatta Stadium.
For their part, Toninho Cerezo’s Kashima will also be without defender Gen Shoji due to suspension and they must avoid defeat in Australia to avid elimination; although even a draw might not be enough should FC Seoul defeat Guangzhou.
Elsewhere, two-time Asian champions Suwon of Korea Republic and China’s Beijing Guoan can secure qualification from Group G with a game to spare.
Suwon travel to Japan to face 2007 winners Urawa Red Diamonds knowing victory would seal a return to the last 16 for the first time since 2011, while a draw would also be enough as long as A-League champions Brisbane Roar do not beat Beijing in the Chinese capital.
Urawa, though, know only a win over Suwon will extend their campaign to the final Matchday, although their visitors will be without defender Oh Beom-seok through suspension.
Should Suwon lose to Urawa, it would also mean Beijing need just a draw against Brisbane to win Group G, while a victory against the Australians would also be sufficient to win the group if the Koreans fail to claim all three points in Saitama.
The scenario for Frans Thijssen’s Brisbane side dictates that a win in Beijing guarantees they remain in contention for the Round of 16 when they play their final group game in a fortnight’s time.
However, defeat would result in elimination for Brisbane, while a draw could still see them exit the tournament should Suwon avoid defeat against Urawa.
Finally in Group D, 2012 finalists Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia will progress to the knockout stage as group winners should they defeat United Arab Emirates champions Al Ahli in Jeddah, while their place in the Round of 16 would also be assured if the match is tied and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf do not beat Tractorsazi Tabriz of Iran.
While Saudi club Al Ahli will be without suspended midfielder Waleed Bakshwan, their Emirati visitors have absences of their own in defenders Habib Al Fardan, Abdulaziz Haikal and goalkeeper Majed Naser due to suspension.
Should the club from the UAE come out on top they would secure their first-ever place in the Round of 16 in their fifth appearance in the AFC Champions League as long as Nasaf beat Tractorsazi.
The instruction for Antonio Oliveira’s Tractorsazi side is much simpler as the Iranian side must defeat visitors Nasaf to avoid premature elimination from the tournament.
A loss for Nasaf would also spell their own exit from the competition if the UAE’s Al Ahli beat Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia.