Japan's Gamba Osaka, Kuwait champions Al Qadsia and 2007 runners-up Al Karama of Syria will all advance to the Asian Champions League quarterfinals with wins in the penultimate round of the first stage on Wednesday.
|Adelaide United could be the first Australian team |
through to the knockout stages [GALLO/GETTY]
Only the winners of the seven groups progress to the final eight, where they will be joined by defending champions Urawa Reds of Japan.
Osaka, which has won just one of its last five league games in Japan, enjoys a five point advantage in Group G and even a draw at the Thai home of Chonburi FC will send the Kansai team into the knockout stage for the first time.
Bottom club Melbourne Victory travels to South Korea to face Chunnam Dragons, which must win its last two games to have any chance of overtaking Gamba.
Adelaide look to set Australian record
Australia's other representative, Adelaide United, is in a much healthier position on top of Group E and hosts the tournament's other South Korean team Pohang Steelers.
A win will see Adelaide take a giant step toward becoming the first Australian team to progress to the knockout stage.
Adelaide could be helped by the fact that the already-eliminated Korean champion is in the middle of the K-League season and is likely to field a weakened team, while the host has problems of its own with defenders Cassio and Angelo Costanzo out along with striker Bruce Djite.
Changchun Yatai is the only threat to Adelaide and the Chinese team visits last-placed Vietnamese team Binh Duong on the back of three successive defeats in the China league.
Changchun, currently two points behind Adelaide, hosts the Australians in the final game.
Despite a 1-0 defeat at Beijing Guoan two weeks ago, Kashima Antlers is still top of Group F on goal difference and hosts Krung Thai Bank.
The Thai team is looking to avenge a 9-1 opening round defeat, although avoiding another humiliation will be enough.
Kashima could be without talismanic striker Marquinhos after the Brazilian picked up an injury in last weekend's 3-2 loss at Kawasaki Frontale.
"The injury to Marquinhos might have done some psychological damage to our players,'' said Kashima's Brazilian coach Oswaldo Oliveira.
Beijing hosts Nam Dinh of Vietnam and will likely take the three points to keep up with Kashima but a vastly inferior goal difference could count against the Chinese team.
Al Karama of Syria only needs to avoid defeat at the United Arab Emirates' Al Wahda to top Group C and reach the last eight for the third consecutive year.
Qatar powerhouse Al-Sadd has a faint chance of overhauling Al Karama if the Syrians lose, but nothing less than a win against Saudi struggler Al-Ahli will suffice.
Kuruvchi on the verge
Group A outsider Kuruvchi of Uzbekistan could book an unlikely quarterfinal spot in its first attempt if results go its way.
Kuruvchi hosts two-time continental champions Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
"We are well prepared for this match,'' Al Ittihad's Argentine coach Gabriel Calderon said.
"It is very important for us, and hopefully we can get a win to go back to the top place in the group.''
A win for the Uzbeks will be enough if 2007 runner-up Sepahan of Iran fails to win at Syria's Al-Ittihad.
Saipa, which defeated Sepahan in the Iranian league last week, controls Group B with a three-points buffer at the top.
Club coach Ali Daei is also in charge of the Iran national team and publicly criticised his bosses in Tehran last week.
The former Bayern Munich striker will be feeling happier if his Saipa team defeats Kuwait Sports Club at home.
Those three points will send the team to the last eight if second placed Al Quwa Al Juwiya fails to defeat UAE's Al Wasl.
Al Wasl may be in last place but is not giving up hope.
"We will keep our hopes alive and fight in Wednesday's clash to win the three points and wait for our last match at home against Saipa,'' said team manager Esmail Rashid.
Group D's representative in the quarterfinals depends on the clash between leaders Al Qadsia of Kuwait and Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor.
A draw will send the West Asian team through.
The match between Al Gharafa of Qatar and Iraqi team Arbil match is meaningless.