Japan and South Korea may have faltered in World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, but their clubs dominate Asian competition. Between them, the two countries have won 10 of the last 15 Asian Champions League titles and also provide seven teams in the round of 16 of the 2021 tournament.
The Eastern Zone of the competition enters the knockout phase on Tuesday with a clash between two of the title favorites: defending champion Ulsan Horang-i and Japanese champion Kawasaki Frontale.
“I came to Ulsan because I want to win titles,” Ulsan midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili told the Asian Football Confederation website.
“I have heard a lot about Kawasaki and I know they are a very good team playing good football,” said Qazaishvili. “It’s a huge advantage for us to have this home game in Korea with our fans behind us; playing at home is always special.
Both teams are at the top of their national leagues. When the Asian Champions League group stage ended in May, Kawasaki was way ahead at the top of the J.league, but a victory in the last five games left the club one point ahead and out of the Levain Cup.
“We really wanted to win the cup game and take the next step, so it’s a painful feeling,” said coach Toru Oniki. “We don’t have time to think about it because we have to expect a tough game in Asia against champion Ulsan and it gives us a chance to put the cup exit behind us.”
The other two meetings between clubs from Japan and South Korea feature Nagoya Grampus hosting Daegu FC and three-time Asian champions Pohang Steelers traveling to Cerezo Osaka. Korean Jeonbuk will host BG Pathum United of Thailand.
In the western zone, Tractor of Iran has asked the Asian Football Confederation to postpone its match with Al-Nassr from Riyadh. The team is struggling to put together the required 18-player roster as it has been hit by injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak.
Club CEO Jamshid Nazmi said Tractor will do everything possible to participate in the match, which will take place in Qatar.
“I have looked at the issues and looked for the solutions necessary for the team to have a presence in Qatar,” Nazmi said in a statement posted on the club’s homepage. “Although it is necessary for Tractor to replace the new members of the youth squad even if the AFC does not agree with our request, we will go to Qatar under any circumstances to play the game.”
Sharjah welcomes Al-Wahda during a meeting with all of the United Arab Emirates. Tajikistan’s first representative in the tournament, Istiklol, meets Iranian giant Persepolis.
Al Hilal became the first team to qualify for the final eight with a 2-0 win over Esteghlal on Monday night, with goals from Bafetimbi Gomis and Salem Al Dawsari.
The quarter-finals are scheduled for next month and the final is scheduled for November 23.