With only two rounds of fixtures remaining in the group stages of the 2016 AFC Cup, the line-up for the last 16 is starting to take shape.
In the East Zone, defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim and Mohun Bagan of India are the only clubs to have secured their progression, with Bangladeshi outfit Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi the only team to be eliminated.
With six spots in the knockout stage still up for grabs in the East Zone, there is plenty to play for as some of Asia’s best clubs do battle in the continent’s second-tier competition.
It’s Group E and Group F who are in action first up on Tuesday, and the Group E clash between Selangor FA and Ceres is one that jumps off the page as a must-watch fixture.
Selangor are currently level on points with Tampines Rovers who travel to the already-eliminated Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi, and as such Selangor will feel it’s win or bust when they host table-topping Ceres at the Majlis Perbandaran Selayang Stadium. A defeat would mean the Malaysian outfit could head into their final match against Tampines needing a comprehensive win away from home if they’re to remain in the competition.
In Group F, it’s the top-of-the-table clash between Kaya and Kitchee that really whets the appetite. Since an opening round defeat to Kitchee, Kaya have strung a number of impressive performances together, winning three in a row in the continental competition.
Kitchee haven’t been able to maintain that standard though, and a win last time out against New Radiant was their first since that victory over Kaya. As a result, the men from Hong Kong will be banking on picking up a positive result on Tuesday in order to hold off the challenge of Balestier Khalsa who host New Radiant.
For South China, the equation ahead of their Group G fixture with Yangon United is simple: Only a win will do. Should the Hong Kong outfit fail to grab three points they will all but be eliminated, with a final round fixture against group leaders Mohun Bagan and a negative goal difference painting an unhappy picture for José Ricardo Rambo’s side.
Meanwhile, Maziya face the daunting task of trying to keep their hopes alive when they face Mohun Bagan at the National Football Stadium in Malé.
JDT have been ruthless early on in their defence of their AFC Cup title, winning four from four and hammering in 16 goals in the process, six of which have been scored by Mohd Safiq Rahim. They’ll be looking to ensure they top Group H when they host Bengaluru FC.
Elsewhere in Group G, Lao Toyota FC need to beat visitors Ayeyawady United if they are to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the last 16.