The make-up of the knockout stage of this year's AFC Champions League makes one feel that Japanese teams are determined to keep the trophy in the Land of the Rising Sun, with three J-League teams featuring in the last eight.
Nevertheless, the Japanese participants are not expected to have it easy in the quarter-finals. Defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka will face sultry West Asian examinations in the shape of Al Qadsia of Kuwait and Syrian heavyweights Al Karama, while fellow J-league outfit Kashima Antlers won't make light work of Australia's tough Adelaide United. Elsewhere, Kuruvchi, with their Brazilian superstar Rivaldo, travel to Iran to face Saipa. FIFA.com takes a look at the quarter-final ties.
The big match
Kashima Antlers-Adelaide United
Although this is the first time that Antlers have progressed to the knockout stage of the competition, their status as a J-League powerhouse is well-known. Having won the domestic title a record five times, they believe they are due some success at continental level as well, and they showed their intent in the group stage by scoring 28 times, averaging more than four goals per game, to make them the most prolific team in the competition. However, they are up against a resilient side in Adelaide United. In Adelaide's ACL bow last year, they disappointed by failing to progress to the last eight, but this year they impressed throughout, knocking out Chinese champions Changchun Yatai to book their place in the knockout stage. This, however, will be their first-ever encounter with a Japanese team.
The other games
Al Karama-Gamba Osaka
Al Karama have shown fine form in the continental competition in recent times, particularly on home soil. They have turned their Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium at Homs into a solid fortress, and Korea Republic's Seongnam Ilhwa remain the only team to have claimed an away win against Karama, in last year's quarter-final second leg. Gamba Osaka, despite their unstoppable form during the group stage, will have their first real test against the Syrian side.
Al Qadsia-Urawa Reds
Currently sitting third in the 18-team J-League table, Urawa Reds have set themselves the ambitious double goal of taking out the J-League while retaining their Asian title. Standing between them and a place in the semi-final are Al Qadsia, 11-time Kuwaiti champions who are looking to break new ground in their third AFC Champions League appearance. Urawa Reds boast a proud record against West Asian sides, having prevailed over Iran's Sepahan to become Asian champions last year.
Fellow Iranian side Sepahan's progress to the final last year is all the inspiration Saipa need when they begin their knockout stage campaign against Kuruvchi. However, under former Uzbekistan captain Mirdjalal Kasimov, Kuruvchi have had a meteoric rise this season on two fronts. At domestic level, they have established a firm grip on the local league, while on Asian turf they stunned the likes of Al Ittihad and Sepahan to progress to the last eight.
Player to watch
The legendary Rivaldo, despite his 36 years, appears to be in prime form. The 1999 FIFA World Player of the Year recently turned down lucrative offers from Australia and Japan to spend the twilight of his career with Kuruvchi. The 2002 FIFA World Cup™ winner did not take long to show his credentials, scoring twice on debut in Kuruvchi's 2-0 win over Mashal, a result which helped the Uzbekistan League pace-setters increase their lead to eight points. His pedigree and experience will be crucial factors when Kuruvchi take on Iran's Saipa on Wednesday.
What they said
"In terms of logistics, this is the easiest draw for us. But Kashima Antlers are an extremely good side. They struggled earlier in the season, but they've really come on now," Adelaide United coach Aurelio Vidmar
AFC Champions League quarter-finals, first legs:
Wednesday 17 September
Saipa (Iran) - Kuruvchi (Uzbekistan)
Kashima Antlers (Japan) - Adelaide United (Australia)
Al Qadsia (Kuwait) - Urawa Reds (Japan)
Al Karama (Syria) - Gamba Osaka (Japan)