News ID: 177137
Published: 0750 GMT February 06, 2017

AFC Champions League playoff hopefuls eye group stage

AFC Champions League playoff hopefuls eye group stage

The playoff stage of the 2017 AFC Champions League kicks off today, with 16 teams from various parts of the continent vying for the eight final spots in the competition's group stage.

With former winners such as Gamba Osaka, Ulsan Hyundai and Al Sadd in the mix, it promises to be an entertaining affair, the-afc.com reported.

 

East Zone

 

2008 AFC Champions League winner Gamba Osaka starts things off with a mouthwatering clash against 2015 AFC Cup champion Johor Darul Ta’zim in Suita, with the home side eager to make it to the group stage for the third year running.

Benjamin Mora’s Southern Tigers are no slouches, however, having seen off Bangkok United on penalties in the previous round of qualifying. While this represents the furthest the Malaysian champion has gone in the continent’s showpiece tournament, the promise of a first-ever appearance in the group stage should prove ample motivation for an upset.

Elsewhere, two Chinese clubs from the same city see action with Shanghai Shenhua taking on Brisbane Roar and Shanghai SIPG welcoming first-timer Sukhothai FC.

Shenhua has the more storied history in the AFC Champions League with six appearances, but SIPG matched its best result with a run to the quarterfinals in its debut campaign last year.

Both teams have been boosted by high-profile South American signings in Carlos Tevez and Oscar respectively but head coaches Gus Poyet and Andres Villas-Boas know that such investment will have to be backed up by strong performances and qualification to the tournament.

Last but not least, Ulsan Hyundai is the beneficiary of defending champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ expulsion from this year’s competition. The 2012 winner plays host to Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC after the latter needed extra time to eliminate Hanoi FC in the previous round.

 

Gamba Osaka (JPN) vs. Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS)

Venue: Suita City Football Stadium, Osaka

Kickoff: February 7, 19:00 UTC +9

Winner will progress to Group  H

 

Shanghai SIPG FC (CHN) vs. Sukhothai FC (THA)

Venue: Shanghai Stadium, Shanghai

Kickoff: February 7, 19:30 UTC +8

Winner will progress to Group F

 

Ulsan Hyundai FC (KOR) vs. Kitchee SC (HKG)

Venue: Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium, Ulsan

Kickoff: February 7, 19:30 UTC +9

Winner will progress to Group E

 

Shanghai Shenhua FC (CHN) vs. Brisbane Roar (AUS)

Venue: Hongkou Stadium, Shanghai

Kickoff: February 8, 19:45 UTC+8

Winner will progress to Group E

 

West Zone

 

Over in the West, Jordan’s Al Wehdat and Uzbekistan’s FC Nasaf joined six other teams in the playoff stage after progressing from their Preliminary Stage 2 encounters.

Al Wehdat managed to hold on to a 2-1 win against FC Bengaluru while FC Nasaf romped to a 4-0 win over Al Hidd, earning themselves playoff ties against the UAE’s Al Wahda and Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh, respectively.

Al Wahda is veteran when it comes to the AFC Champions League and will be hoping to make a seventh appearance in the tournament with experienced Mexican manager Javier Aguirre at the helm. It will fancy its chances against underdogs Al Wehdat, which has yet to qualify for the group stage in two previous attempts.

FC Nasaf is one of two Uzbek teams, the other being FC Bunyodkor, hoping to join Lokomotiv Tashkent in the Group stage. The former AFC Cup winner will need to get past Al Fateh, whose sole previous appearance in the competition came in 2014.

Meanwhile, former Asian Club Championship winner Esteghlal will do battle with 2011 champion Al Sadd in a blockbuster match in Tehran. The two sides have appeared a combined 17 times in the AFC Champions League, but only one of them will progress to the group stage this year.

Football fans around the world will also no doubt be familiar with Al Sadd’s captain, none other than World Cup winner and former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez.

The other Qatari club in the playoffs, El Jaish, will face Bunyodkor in Doha with both teams making it this far thanks to runners-up finishes in their leagues last season. Bunyodkor has made the semifinals of the competition twice, in 2008 and 2012, while El Jaish reached the same stage in last year’s tournament.

 

Al Fateh FC (KSA) vs. FC Nasaf (UZB)

Venue: Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium, Al Hasa

Kickoff: February 7, 18:00 UTC +3

Winner will progress to Group B

 

El Jaish SC (QAT) vs. FC Bunyodkor (UZB)

Venue: Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha

Kickoff: February 7, 18:15 UTC +3

Winner will progress to Group C

 

Esteghlal FC (IRN) vs. Al Sadd SC (QAT)

Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran

Kickoff: February 7, 19:00 UTC +3:30

Winner will progress to Group A

 

Al Wahda (UAE) vs. Al Wehdat (JOR)

Venue: Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi

Kickoff: February 7, 20:15 UTC +4

Winner will progress to Group D

   
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Resource: the-afc.com
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