The identity of five of the qualifiers for the last eight of the AFC Champions League is known, and on Thursday the line-up for the next phase will be completed. And while Al Karama, Kashima Antlers and Adelaide United are in the driving seat to advance, nothing can be taken for granted when a group stage rich on upsets reaches its conclusion.
United require a draw against Changchun Yatai in China PR to progress, although anything less would result in their hosts claiming Group E's ticket to the quarter-finals. The sides will have to wait an extra 24 hours for their decisive fixture to unfold, however, after the AFC decided to postpone it until Thursday to honour the victims of the recent earthquake in Sichuan.
Adelaide beat Pohang Steelers 1-0 last time out to stay two points clear of Yatai, and their coach Aurelio Vidmar is confident they can become the first Australian side to go beyond the group stage in the competition. "We've got a pretty good structure at the moment and it has been really good throughout the whole campaign," he said. "If we stick to our roles then I'm very confident that we can get that point to qualify."
Vidmar's opposite number, Gao Hongbo, is hoping to give his countrymen reason for cheer in what is a difficult time in China. "While we are heart-stricken by the sad news of the victims of the disaster, we will do our utmost to rally for a win against Adelaide, he told FIFA.com. "As football players and coaches, we hope to soothe the pain of our suffering people a bit with a good performance and result."
Duo in command
Another Chinese representative, Beijing Guoan, do not have their destiny within their own hands. Level on points with Group F leaders Kashima Antlers, the capital outfit's vastly inferior goal difference (+21 to +7) means they effectively need a favour from tailenders Nam Dinh, who host the Japanese team on Wednesday. If the Vietnamese team unexpectedly deny the rampant Antlers three points, victory at Krung Thai Bank would send Beijing into the last eight.
Another huge upset would be needed to prevent Syrians Al Karama marching on. The Group C frontrunners need only a point at home to Saudi Arabian strugglers Al Ahly to progress, and even if they fail the achieve this, runners-up Al Wahda would still need to beat Al Saad in Qatar to snatch the United Arab Emirates a presence in the quarter-finals.
"I have a feeling that we can still qualify," said Al
Karama coach Said Kwid, who was appointed Syrian national coach a
month ago. "We are very strong at home and Al Ahly are already
out, which means they have little incentive to give a good account
AFC Champions League 2008, Matchday 6 fixtures:
Wednesday 21 May
Group A: Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia) - Al Ittihad (Syria); Sepahan (Iran) - Kuruvchi (Uzbekistan)
Group B: Kuwait SC (Kuwait) - Al Quwa Al Jawiya (Iraq); Al Wasl (UAE) - Saipa (Iran)
Group D: Arbil (Iraq) - Al Qadsia (Kuwait); Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan) - Al Gharafa
Group E: Pohang Steelers (Korea Rpublic) - Binh Duong (Vietnam)
Group F: Krung Thai Bank (Thailand) - Beijing Guoan (China); Nam Dinh(Vietnam) - Kashima Antlers (Japan)
Thursday 22 May
Group E: Changchun Yatai (China) - Adelaide United (Australia)