The composition of the AFC Champions League is a step closer to be confirmed after the completion of the preliminary round.
China PR heavyweight Shandong Luneng, Vietnam’s Hanoi T&T, plus Thailand pair Chonburi FC and Muangthong United all advanced to next week’s play-off from which the final groups in this year’s competition will be confirmed.
It was a round of contrasting results in the second preliminary stage, where Shandong Luneng grabbed the headlines after hitting six unanswered goals past India’s Mohun Bagan. Victors over Singapore’s Tampines Rovers a week earlier, Mohun were no match for a strong Chinese outfit, with Xang Xu leading the way with a brace.
Shandong will now tackle 2008 runners-up Adelaide United in what is arguably the highlight of next Tuesday’s play-off round.
In contrast, to the Chinese club, the other three matches were extremely tight.
A lone goal from Hanoi’s long-serving skipper Gonzalo Marronkle was all that separated the Vietnamese side and Hong Kong’s Kitchee.
Chonburi had to twice come from behind twice to see off Myanmar’s Yangon United 3-2 in extra time. Chonburi, with a strong record in the competition, must now overcome Tokyo FC in the Japanese capital if they are to write another chapter in the continental history.
Thai compatriots Muangthong United had an even tougher time wrestling their way past Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim before triumphing 3-0 on penalties after 120 scoreless minutes. Thailand international goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan was the hero for Muangthong making three consecutive saves in the shoot-out.
The group stage will commence on 23 February, and the winner of the AFC Champions League will represent Asia in the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup.