AFC Champions League preview
After an exciting start to the 2010 AFC Champions League a fortnight ago, the 32 top Asian clubs will resume battle in the second round on 9 and 10 March with the 13 winning sides seeking to build on their matchday one victories.
Buoyed by their opening wins, the Uzbek duo of Bunyodkor and Pakhtakor enter the second round hoping to continue their good run. On the back of their 3-0 home dismantling of two-time champions Al Ittihad, Bunyodkor must travel to Abu Dhabi to face Al Wahda searching for their second win. They will be without recently injured forward Anvar Soliev, but coach Luiz Felipe Scolari can still call on the Brazilian duo of Rivaldo and Denilson, who both scored in the opening win.
Pakhtakor, the only team to have featured in the tournament’s every edition since 2003, play hosts to Saudi club Al Shabab. Although the Tashkent-based giants have lost a number of players from the team that reached the quarter-final stage last season, the 2003 and 2004 semi-finalists have a strong pedigree.
In contrast to the outstanding form of the Uzbek teams, the Japanese quartet of clubs disappointed on the opening day with only Kashima Antlers securing a win. After their goalless draw with Suwon Bluewings, 2008 Asian champions Gamba Osaka lost their J.League curtain-raiser to Nagoya Grampus on Saturday, and they’ll be looking for a home win over Chinese side Henan Jianye to provide them with the much needed morale-booster. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at this week’s action.
Jeonbuk Motors (KOR)-Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Both sides won their opening match, but it is hosts Jeonbuk that boast the brightest continental record after their exploits in the 2006 edition. Then the Korean outfit swept past the likes of Dalian Shide and Gamba Osaka en route to the final, where they overcame Al Karama to clinch the Asian title. An opening 4-1 win over Indonesian Persipura Jayapura and a 3-1 defeat of Suwon Bluewings in the K-league opener last week indicates Jeonbuk are heading in the right direction as they aim for their second Champions League trophy.
For Kashima, the Asian title remains the only honour that has eluded them. With seven league titles under their belt, Kashima are the most successful J.League side, but their showing at the continental level has been less than convincing, and they went out last year on penalties in the Round of 16 to FC Seoul. Under Brazilian boss Oswaldo de Oliveira, the Japanese champions opened brightly this year with a 1-0 home win over China’s Changchun Yatai. A 2-0 victory against Urawa Red Diamonds in Saturday’s J.League curtain-raiser provided them with further morale-booster ahead of the Jeonbuk test.
The other headliner
Sepahan (IRN)-Al Ain (UAE)
These two sides are no strangers to each other having met in the group stage in 2007. On that occasion Al Ain claimed four points across the two fixtures, but it was Sepahan who eventually won the group. The Iranian giants would eventually go all the way to the final only to lose to Urawa Reds 3-1 on aggregate.
Both teams dropped points in first round with Sepahan drawing 1-1 against Al Shabab while Al Ain lost 1-0 to Pakhtakor at home. If they are to claim maximum points at home, Sepahan must brush aside their lacklustre form which saw them also held by Teraktor-Sazi in Saturday’s Iranian league fixture. For Al Ain, poor finishing cost them dearly against Pakhtakor in a match they dominated throughout. Should they put their profligacy in front of the goal behind them, then Al Ain will be hopeful of surprising their hosts.
Inspired by their 1-0 win over defending champions Pohang Steelers, Australian club Adelaide United travel to China for a meeting with Shandong Luneng in Group H. But the 2008 runners-up will have to overcome not only the experienced hosts, but also the chilly weather, with the local temperature due to hit freezing. In the group’s other match, Pohang will try to bounce back against Sanfrecce Hiroshima with coach Waldemar Lemos de Oliveira calling for more spirit from the three-time Asian champions.
In Group E, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma will travel to face Melbourne Victory, but the visiting coach Shin Tae-Yong, who was an assistant with Brisbane Roar in the A-League from 2005 to 2008, believes that his knowledge of Australian football will provide his side with the tactical edge. The group’s other game pits Chinese champions Beijing Guoan and their Japanese hosts Kawasaki Frontale, who registered a spirited 2-1 triumph against Albirex Niigata in their J.League opener despite losing to Seongnam 2-0 a fortnight ago. Kawasaki will play without the injured Kengo Nakamura, but former Arsenal and Fulham man Junichi Inamoto is more than capable of driving their midfield.
For their part, Iranian teams enter the second round looking to continue their good form. Adding to their opening wins in the Champions League, both Esteghlal and Zob Ahan emerged victorious in the weekend’s domestic competition ahead of their continental encounters against Al Jazira and Al Ittihad respectively.
Player to watch
Croatian striker Krunoslav Lovrek claimed this year’s first hat-trick in the AFC Champions League as he steered Jeonbuk to a 4-1 win over Persipura Jayapura. Despite spending the last two seasons struggling with injury, the 30-year-old hit-man will try to prove his scoring form is back for good against Kashima Antlers in Jeonju.
What they said
"If we defeat Kashima then we have a good chance of getting to the second round. We will continue our rich vein of form particularly when we play in front of our own fans." Jeonbuk Motors coach Choi Kang-Hee
2010 AFC Champions League Matchday 2 fixtures
Group A: Esteghlal (IRN)-Al Jazira (UAE); Al Gharafa (QAT)-Al Ahli (KSA)
Group B: Al Wahda (UAE)-Bunyodkor (UZB); Al Ittihad (KSA)-Zob Ahan (IRN)
Group C: Sepahan (IRN)-Al Ain (UAE); Pakhtakor (UZB)-Al Shabab (KSA)
Group D: Al Ahli (UAE)-Al Sadd (QAT); Al Hilal (KSA)-Mes Kerman (Iran)
Group E: Melbourne Victory (AUS)-Seongnam Ilhwa (KOR); Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)-Beijing Guoan (CHN)
Group F: Changchun Yatai (CHN)-Persipura Jayapura (IDN); Jeonbuk Motors (KOR)-Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Group G: Singapore Armed Forces (SIN)-Suwon Bluewings (KOR); Gamba Osaka (JPN)-Henan Jianye (CHN)
Group H: Pohang Steelers (KOR)-Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN); Shandong Luneng (CHN)-Adelaide United (AUS)