The AFC Champions League 2017 is entering its business end with the Round of 16 fixtures commencing from Monday. Let's take a closer look at what the first legs of the two-legged pre-quarterfinals in the East Zone offer us:-
Muangthong United (THA) v Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
The first of the Round of 16 games in the East Zone sees Thailand's Muangthong United host Japanese outfit Kawasaki Frontale on Tuesday in the first leg. Muangthong, who advanced to this stage after finishing as runners-up in Group E, are the first Thai side since Buriram United in 2013 to appear in the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League.
But further progress will require a huge effort from them against Kawasaki Frontale who boast an undefeated record while finishing top of Group G. Though they drew their first four games, they hit peak at the right moment with two victories. Muangthong will welcome the trio of Xisco, Lee Ho and Tristan Do back from suspension but are in a rut as far as domestic form is considered. On the other hand, Kawasaki beat Kashima Antlers during the weekend and will be pumped up as a result.
Venue: Thunderdome Stadium, Nonthaburi
Kick-off: May 23, 19:30 UTC+7
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Kashima Antlers (JPN)
When two-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande welcome FIFA Club World Cup runners-up Kashima Antlers for the first leg of their Round of 16 clash on Tuesday, sparks are bound to fly. For these are two experienced teams with strong players. Kashima Antlers, despite some hiccups, finished top of Group E to get to this stage while Guangzhou could only manage a runners-up spot even though they were undefeated in Group G.
But the hosts are currently top of the Chinese Super League and Luis Felipe Scolari's side will be confident of getting a positive result against their opponents who were handed a demoralising loss domestically. The teams last met in the 2015 group stage when Guangzhou claimed an enthralling 4-3 win at Tianhe Stadium, before Kashima ran out 2-1 victors in Japan.Let's see what this game has in store for us.
Venue: Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou
Kick-off: May 23, 20:00 UTC+8
Jeju United (KOR) v Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)
Jeju United will be making their debut in the AFC Champions League knockout stages when they host Urawa Red Diamonds on Wednesday for the first leg of their Round of 16 clash. The South Korean outfit are up against a team which has never made it beyond the Round of 16 stage since 2008. But they would still be well advised not to take Urawa lightly, since the Japanese side were impressive in Group F, winning it while scoring an astonishing 18 goals.
Jeju United, on the other hand, needed a final day win over Gamba Osaka to sneak in to this stage as Group F runners-up. The hosts might be the outsiders for this one but they will be hopeful of getting a good result at home before the second leg.
Venue: Jeju Sports Complex, Jeju
Kick-off: May 24, 15:00 UTC+9
Shanghai SIPG (CHN) v Jiangsu FC (CHN)
This matchup looks very intriguing as two Chinese sides come up against each other in Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning FC. The hosts, Shanghai SIPG, are coached by Andre Villas-Boas and got to this stage after finishing as the runners-up in Group F. Jiangsu, on the other hand, finished top of Group H with an impressive record of five wins and a loss.
But it doesn't necessarily make them the favourites for this game given that Jiangsu's form domestically has been poor. While Shanghai are second on the table, Jiangsu are lying far below in the 14th spot. More over, both teams have established South American stars like Hulk and Oscar (Shanghai SIPG) or Ramires and Alex Teixeira (Jiangsu Suning).
Venue: Shanghai Stadium, Shanghai
Kick-off: May 24, 20:00 UTC+8