Ten places in the Round of 16 are still up for grab on the concluding matchday of the AFC Champions League. Six West Asian sides will battle for their zone's remaining three berths, while competition in the continent's east zone is still wide open, with as many as fourteen teams vying for the right to join Pohang Steelers in the next stage.
Guangzhou Evergrande-Yokohama F. Marinos
The most tricky of all, Group G is on a knife's edge with all four teams level on points. And most eyes are on defending champions Guangzhou, who welcome Yokohama in a do-or-die contest after surprisingly suffering two successive losses that has put their campaign in jeopardy. Marcello Lippi's side still lead the way courtesy of their superior head-to-head record and can secure progression with a home draw. The Japanese, however, face a must-win.
The Italian manager rested all his foreign stars in Saturday's outing against Shanghai Shenhua which they won 2-1, a result which provided them with a timely boost. Yokohama, meanwhile, have now gone six league matches without a win after being held to a goalless draw at Kashiwa Reysol. But the cup holders did show their teeth in their spirited 2-1 comeback victory against Jeonbuk Motors a week ago with ace-striker Manabu Saito twice on target.
Spearheading the Chinese attacking-line is the in-form Gao Lin, who sealed their victory against Shanghai with a thunderous long-distance effort. With midfielder Liao Lisheng suspended, the hosts fans will be relieved to see the return of Alessandro Diamanti from injury although captain Zheng Zhi remains a doubt after limping off in their 2-0 loss at Melbourne Victory. In the other match, Jeonbuk entertain Melbourne with both sides in desperate search of the much-needed three points.
The other attractions
Group A's two qualified sides meet up to decide the section's winners, with leaders Al Shabab needing just a draw against Al Jazira to claim top place. There is, meanwhile, little but pride on the line for eliminated Esteghlal and Al Rayyan. The same can be said of Group C, where Al Ain and Al Ittihad, both of whom booked progression last week, cross swords with the former needing a point at home to secure pole position.
A home draw against Bunyodkor is enough for El Jaish to clinch Group B's remaining qualifying spot behind section winners Foolad. While the Qatari hosts can take heart from their 2-1 first-leg win in Tashkent, the campaign-hardened Uzbeks will count on their immense experiences to turn the corner, having progressed to the second stage in each of their past six Asian appearances.
The only West Asian section with two spots still up for grabs, Group D is wide open with all four teams harbouring hopes. Al Ahli need just a draw at Al Sadd to go through in the top-versus-bottom clash, while the Qatari hosts must count on not only victory but the other result also going their way to seal passage. It is a similar scenario between joint leaders Sepahan and Al Hilal, with the former hoping for a draw to complete their mission.
It is a three-way battle in Group E with three teams, all level on points, competing for the remaining spot behind section-winners Pohang Steelers. After getting his tenure off to a dream start with a 2-0 home defeat of Shandong, new Buriram coach Bozidar Bandovic has fixed his sights on a second consecutive progression by inflicting a first defeat on hosts Pohang. Anything less than three points for the Thais will, however, see the winner of Shandong and Cerezo qualify. The Chinese hosts' hopes are boosted by the return of top-striker Vagner Love, who completed a hat-trick as they won their most recent league match at Beijing Guoan 3-0.
Group F's Beijing take on hosts and leaders FC Seoul, who lost to Pohang 1-0 in the K.League. A draw is enough to see the home side through while the visitors are left with no option but to win if they are to progress. In the other game, both hosts Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Central Coast Mariners can make it through with three points. The Australians travel to Hiroshima on the back of a spirited 1-0 win against Adelaide United, while the J.League champions shared the spoils in a goalless stalemate with Albirex Niigata.
Despite losing to Urawa Reds 1-0 on the weekend, Kawasaki Frontale are confident of sealing a return to the knockout stage with a home draw against Ulsan Hyundai enough to take them through from Group H. Debutants Western Sydney Wanderers must, however, secure a draw against the eliminated Guizhou Renhe if they are to make sure of a Round of 16 place.
Player to watch
The only player to feature in all 33 of Melbourne’s matches this season, James Troisi has played a huge role as the Victory impressed on both the domestic and international stage. The team's top-scorer with 12 league goals, he is also among the top providers including having a hand in both goals as they downed Sydney FC 2-1 over the weekend.
4 - Three former winners as well as holders Guangzhou are on the edge of elimination heading into the closing matchday.
What they said
"If we lose at home against Yokohama, then it’s right that we go out. After losing in Korea and losing in Australia, if we lose at home then we don’t deserve to go through," Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi
Matchday 6 fixtures
22 & 23 April
Group A: Al Jazira-Al Shabab, Esteghlal-Al Al Rayyan
Group B: El Jaish-Bunyodkor, Al Fateh-Foolad
Group C: Tractor Sazi-Lekhwiya, Al Ain-Al Ittihad
Group D: Al Hilal-Sepahan, Al Sadd-Al Ahli
Group E: Shandong Luneng-Cerezo Osaka, Pohang Steelers-Buriram United
Group F: Sanfrecce Hiroshima-Central Coast Mariners, FC Seoul-Beijing Guoan
Group G: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors-Melbourne Victory, Guangzhou Evergrande-Yokohama F. Marinos
Group H: Western Sydney Wanderers-Guizhou Renhe, Kawasaki Frontale-Ulsan Hyundai