Only seven of the 16 spots for the knockout phase have been decided ahead of the final matchday of Asia's top club competition in a fortnight's time
By Ben Somerford | Asian Football Editor
It's easy to generalise when it comes to the Asian Champions League (ACL). A month ago, we were talking about a potential shift in power and the rise of the underdogs following the early success of the likes of Buriram United, Al Jazira and Guangzhou Evergrande. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Suddenly, with one matchday to play, the competition's recent dominant force, the K-League, has all four of its representatives in the box-seat to progress. Traditional powerhouses like Al Ittihad, Sepahan and Jeonbuk are all already through to the round of 16, too.
Of course, there are a few shocks, like ambitious UAE outfit Al Jazira becoming the first side to reach the last 16 and now cementing top spot in Group A, which is a huge advantage in the one-legged round of 16 where group winners get to play at home.
|CLUBS ALREADY QUALIFIED
However, the reality is that these surprises have been the exception to the rule and the status quo has been maintained, despite early appearances in this year's competition.
Naturally there's always going to be a club or two who go on a shock run, like Al Sadd did so successfully last year or Adelaide back in 2008. Perhaps the Reds, or Al Jazira are best placed to fill that role this term. We shouldn't write off big-spending Chinese champions Guangzhou either, particularly after they landed Borussia Dortmund's Lucas Barrios in midweek, although he won't arrive until June.
Whatever the case, there remains plenty of intrigue fixtures heading into the final matchday in a fortnight's time. Only seven of the 16 spots in the knockout phase have been decided. There's plenty of jostling to be done yet.
And one of the quirks of the ACL, the fact that the round of 16 is only a one-legged affair, means top spot in the group stage is of the utmost importance. Last year only one away side, or group runner-up, progressed beyond the last 16 and that was Cerezo Osaka, who made the short trip across town to face Gamba in that match. Clearly, there's still plenty to play for.
|MATCHDAY SIX GAMES WHERE THE WINNER GOES THROUGH|
|Tuesday March 15||Nagoya Grampus||Central Coast||G|
|Wednesday March 16
|Wednesday March 16