The knockout phase of the AFC Champions League gets underway on Tuesday, with two tantalizing clashes in the East Zone. In Australia, Melbourne Victory host Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors while in Japan, FC Tokyo are at home to Shanghai SIPG.
Both matches are sure to be hard-fought encounters, with a first-leg advantage, particularly for those sides playing at home, crucial if they’re to progress to the last eight.
We’ve cast our eye over the two matches and predicted who we think will come out on top…
Melbourne Victory vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
First up is a match between two sides with very different records in the AFC Champions League; while Victory are playing in the knockout stages for the first time, Jeonbuk, winners in 2006 and runners-up in 2011, have failed to make it out of the group phase just once in the last six seasons.
A strong start for Kevin Muscat’s Victory side will be key, particularly as their home record is significantly better than that on their travels. In what was a disappointing A-League season for the 2014/15 champions, Victory lost just once on home soil, a pattern that was repeated in continental competition where their lone wins – including the crucial three points against Gamba Osaka last time out – were achieved at home. AAMI Park is becoming something of a fortress for Victory, and they need to make the most of that.
Jeonbuk arrived in Australia feeling refreshed, having been granted the luxury of postponing their weekend K League Classic fixture. While Victory have claimed just one win in their last five, Jeonbuk are unbeaten in their last nine fixtures in all competitions.
It’s on the back of this run that Choi Kang-hee’s hard-working side will feel confident of coming away with a positive result. They did so two years ago when the teams met at the same stage of the competition. After a 0-0 draw in Korea Republic, Jeonbuk claimed a 2-2 draw in Melbourne to secure their progression.
Key players: The match has been billed by the Victory promotion machine as Archie Thompson’s last match (not giving their side much hope in the tie…), with the club veteran set to call time on his career at the end of the competition. Thompson will be desperate to add to the 91 goals he’s already scored.
As one of the most experienced strikers in Asia, Lee Dong-Gook is just the man you would want to lead your line in such a fixture. Jeonbuk will be a danger on the counterattack, and it’s Lee and wingers Ricardo Lopes and Han Gyo-won who Victory will have to keep shackled if they’re to triumph.
Prediction: Victory to edge it 2-1.
FC Tokyo vs Shanghai SIPG
A 2-1 defeat to Shanghai SIPG in the opening round of the tournament was not the start that Sven-Goran Eriksson would have expected of his munch-fancied Shanghai side. And while they bookended the group stages with another defeat, the Chinese Super League side have shown themselves to be an outfit not to be trifled with. FC Tokyo are in for a tough time on Tuesday.
Eriksson will once again be without the services of star striker Asamoah Gyan, and the Ghanaian’s continued absence has forced the Swede to shuffle his line-up in order to get additional pace in attack, with Elkeson up front supported Lu Wenjun and Wu Lei in wider positions. It’s a formation that has proved successful, but perhaps hasn’t heralded the goals Eriksson would have hoped would have resulted from some silky movement.
Shanghai’s attacking threat will certainly be of worry to Tokyo, who are without suspended defender Yuichi Murayama. Languishing in 12th place in the J.League standings, Tokyo have conceded 13 goals in 11 domestic clashes and the prospect of Shanghai racking up a few away goals – regardless of the end result – will be of concern for coach Hiroshi Jofuku.
For Jofuku, the challenge will be finding the balance between attack and defence. Wary of the damage Shanghai can inflict on the counter, but knowing that his side need a positive result.
Key players: Tokyo skipper Masato Morishige will need to be a rock in defence and lead his troops effectively if Tokyo are to have a chance. Away goals are as good as gold in knockout ties, and Elkeson will be looking to bag a few on Tuesday.
Prediction: Shanghai to secure a 2-0 win.