Bluewings and Jeju United shoot for AFC spots
The Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Jeju United will aim to grab the round of 16 spots in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League on Tuesday. Two other K League Classic clubs - FC Seoul and Ulsan Hyundai - will play their final matches on Wednesday, but they are already out of the contention for the knockout stage.
In the AFC Champions League (ACL), 32 teams are divided into eight groups. The teams from West Asia make up Groups A to D, while East Asian clubs are in Groups E to H. The top two clubs from each group advance to the knockout stage.
Five teams from the East have so far qualified for the last 16: Muangthong United and the Kashima Antlers from Group E, Urawa Red Diamonds and Shanghai SIPG from Group F, and Jiangsu FC from Group H. This leaves just three knockout stage spots available for six teams in Groups G and H.
Suwon will face Guangzhou Evergrande with a ticket to the next round at stake. They are currently second in Group G with eight points, just one point behind Guangzhou and one point above Kawasaki Frontale.
A victory will assure Suwon of the first place in Group G and a spot in the round of 16, but beating Guangzhou, the 2013 and 2015 ACL champions, on the road won’t be an easy task. Guangzhou, led by FIFA World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, have yet to suffer a defeat in the ACL this season, with two wins and three draws.
A draw is not safe for Suwon since Kawasaki are likely to beat group worst and ACL debutants Eastern SC at home.
Kawasaki also have a tiebreaker edge over Suwon if they end up with the same number of points. In the ACL, head-to-head results between two tied teams serve as the first tiebreaker. Kawasaki beat Suwon 1-0 last month after having a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in February.
Suwon, led by head coach Seo Jung-won, picked up a 2-1 loss against Ulsan Hyundai in their K League Classic match on Saturday, but didn’t fully use their core players. Seo’s side failed to reach the round of 16 at last year’s ACL after finishing third in their group.
Jeju, currently the leaders in the domestic top-flight K League Classic, will try to clinch the knockout berth at home against Gamba Osaka. In Group H, Jeju are second with seven points, followed by Adelaide United with five and Gamba with four.
Jeju, making only their second ACL appearance, can confirm their qualification for the last 16 with a victory, but a draw or a loss will mean their fate depends on the match between Adelaide and already-qualified Jiangsu. Adelaide can advance to the next round if they beat Jiangsu at home and Jeju fail to earn three points.
The Australian club also has the tiebreaking edge over Jeju with one win and one draw in their previous meetings.
Gamba also have a slim chance of reaching the round of 16 if they beat Jeju by at least three goals and Adelaide fail to win. The Japanese side previously fell to Jeju 4-1.
On Wednesday, Seoul and Ulsan will go for their second wins in the ACL, although victories will only secure them third places in their respective groups.
Seoul, led by head coach Hwang Sun-hong, will host Group F Leaders Urawa for a revenge. The reigning K League Classic champions lost 5-2 to the J League outfit in February. Seoul, the 2016 ACL semifinalists, have collected only one win and suffered four losses so far in Group F.
Ulsan, the 2012 ACL champions, will meet Brisbane Roar in Australia for their Group E finale. Ulsan are tied with Brisbane on four points, but are in third place thanks to their 6-0 victory over the Australian club in their previous clash.