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Last year Qatari club Al Sadd lifted the AFC Champions League but in 2012 all four clubs from the nation exited at the group stage, while Japan restored its power in East Asia

By Ben Somerford | Asian Football Editor

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) caused a bit of a stir when they announced Qatar would have four automatic spots in the 2012 AFC Champions League (ACL) after only having two and a half in 2011. The decision was based on Al Sadd's 2011 Asian triumph, along with the Qatar Stars League ticking all the boxes off the field. However, the performance of Qatari representatives in the 2012 ACL will surely have them revising that allocation.

In fact, the AFC have a few problems to get a hold of with regard to the running of the ACL, including the issue of simultaneous kick-offs in final matchday fixtures, but that's an argument for another day.

Following the conclusion of the 2012 group phase, the big topic of conversation in East Asia is usually comparing the performance of teams from Japan, South Korea and China, particularly given the K-League's recent dominance of the competition having had representatives lift the 2008, 2009 and 2010 trophies, before Jeonbuk were 2011 runners-up.

West Asia, too, will be having a similar discussion following the lowly performance of Qatari clubs, however the re-emergence of UAE is a positive while Saudi Arabia and Iran re-affirmed their positions as the region's heavyweights. Meanwhile for Uzbekistan and Australia, they may argue that one out of three isn't too bad (with only Bunyodkor and Adelaide progressing), although so much more was expected of A-League champions Brisbane Roar in their first foray into Asia.

Saudi Arabia (3 representatives)
Iran (3)
UAE (4)
Qatar (4)
Uzbekistan (2)
The biggest shift in power in West Asia was the re-emergence of UAE clubs after the repeated failure of Emirati clubs in the past four editions, where 14 consecutive sides had failed to get out of their group. However, 2010-11 champions Al Jazira made success in Asia their chief mission this term and have succeeded by topping Group A while Gabriel Calderon's Bani Yas also progressed. Some may have questioned UAE's Asian allotment, but these performances have gone some way to justifying their status.

Arguably, UAE's success has come at the expense of Qatari clubs, who suffered 16 defeats in their 24 ACL games this term. Al Arabi became the first club since 2007 to fail to win a point in the ACL too, in an abysmal season for a nation that produced Asia's champion last year.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian clubs continued to dominate the competition in West Asia with all three group competitors progressing, along with Iran's trio. Significantly Tehran powerhouses Persepolis and Esteghlal have had their issues in Asia in recent years (the former domestically this term too) but their progress - despite not being totally convincing - is a great boost for the pair.

Japan (4)
South Korea (4)
Australia (3)
China (3)
Uzbekistan (1)
Thailand (1)
Rivalries are strong in East Asia, with Japan and Korea constantly comparing each other in most fields. The recent ACL success of K-League clubs has been a source of joy for many proud Koreans, particularly in competition with the Japanese as well as the Chinese. In this context, it's hard to get a genuine read on who deserves to be boasting after 2012's group results.

The J-League has three representatives in the final 16, while Korea has two and China only one. Some Japanese will point to the fact that J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol knocked out the K-League equivalent, Jeonbuk, as a sign of its relative strength but Koreans will argue Motors were beset by injury problems. It's also worth noting all three Japanese last-16 qualifiers finished second in their group and must travel in the opening one-off knockout games. In 2011, all four Japanese sides reached this stage, but only one made the final eight, Cerezo after a derby win over Gamba.

Beyond Japan and Korea, the ambitious Guangzhou Evergrande are China's sole remaining survivor, although they needed a late Dario Conca penalty to progress, much to the relief of many who might've been writing the death knell of club football in the Middle Kingdom considering the Guangdong club's apparent lack of return on their recent vast financial investment until the Argentine's late intervention.

Guangzhou's success will be monitored by most, after ambitiously stating their intent to lift the ACL (something no Chinese club has done since 1990), particularly with big names Lucas Barrios and Marcello Lippi jumping on board.

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