The AFC Champions League returns to our screens next week, as Asia’s premier football club competition reaches the quarter-final stage.
As part of the build-up to next week’s matches, we take a look back at the four East Zone teams’ road to the last eight, starting with K-League Classic side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
The Group stage
Jeonbuk were drawn in Group E, alongside Japan’s FC Tokyo, Chinese outfit Jiangsu FC and Vietnam side Becamex Binh Duong.
Choi Kang-hee’s team started their campaign against Tokyo, in front of their home fans at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, on February 23.
Matchday 1 proved to be an enjoyable day for the Koreans, who recorded a hard-fought 2-1 victory over their Japanese opponents.
A week later they traveled to the Olympic Sports Centre for a clash with Jiangsu. Matchday 2 proved to be an unsuccessful one for Jeonbuk, as they suffered a 3-2 defeat on a cold and windy night in Nianjing.
Matchday 3 saw Jeonbuk play host to Binh Duong, and again home comforts proved to be pivotal in the group, with the K-League side recording a routine 2-0 win thanks to goals from Ricardo Lopes and Lee Dong Gook.
The trend of struggling away from home continued when Jeonbuk had to travel to the Binh Duong Stadium for the reverse fixture three weeks later.
In fact, it was a night to forget for the Green Warriors, as two players were sent off late in the game and home captain Nguyen Anh Duc slotted away two penalties, the final being the winner following Kim Hyungil’s 86th-minute red card.
Matchday 5 proved to be a pivotal one for Jeonbuk’s campaign and the one that would ultimately put them in the pound seats for qualification to the knock-outs.
A potentially tricky trip to the Tokyo Stadium turned into a walk in the park for the 2006 AFC Champions League winners, as goals from Kim Bo Kyung, Lee Jae Sung and Go Moo Yul secured a memorable 3-0 win away from home.
A 2-2 draw at home to Jiangsu on Matchday 6 was enough for the K-League giants to secure their place in the last 16.
In fact, the point earned in the final group match was enough for Kang-hee’s side to advance as group winners, albeit only on goal difference after the Korean outfit and Tokyo finished level on 10 points, with Jiangsu just one point behind in third.
The Round of 16
Jeonbuk were drawn against Melbourne Victory in the last 16, after the Australians advanced to the knock-out stage by virtue of finishing as the runners-up in Group G.
The first leg took place at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on May 17, and as was suspected prior to the match, there really wasn’t all that much between the two teams.
Besart Berisha ensured the hosts made a perfect start to the tie with a fifth minute goal, but their lead was short-lived as Leonardo Rodrigues Pereira, also known as just Leonardo, equalised just nine minutes later.
The remainder of the first leg remained goalless to set up a thrilling finale at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium the following week.
The fans who attended the second leg certainly got their money’s worth, as the match proved to be something of a thriller.
Once again Leonardo got the ball rolling for Jeonbuk with a goal just before the half-hour mark. Halfway through the second half Leonardo was called into action again, with his 71st-minute strike handing the Korean side a two-goal cushion for the first time in the match.
The Australians plugged away manfully throughout the remaining 20 minutes and with six minutes left in regulation time, Berisha handed them a life-line with his second strike of the tie.
Despite pulling one goal back, Victory were unable to breach the resolute Jeonbuk defense in search of the key, away goal they required to advance and Jeonbuk secured a spot in the last eight with a 3-2 aggregate win.
Having won the K-League Classic in both 2014 and 2015, JHM started the season as the favourites once again in 2016. It is often seen that a strong continental campaign leads to struggles on the domestic front, but that has certainly not been the case for Jeonbuk.
After 26 matches in the current campaign, they are firmly on top of the standings with 56 points, 10 points ahead of nearest rivals, FC Seoul, with Ulsang Horang another seven points adrift.
In fact, Jeonbuk has been largely untroubled so far this season and have yet to be defeated, winning 15 matches and drawing 11. Some of their more noteworthy results include 3-0 wins over Pohang Steelers and Gwangju FC, and a 3-1 defeat of Suwon FC.
Domestically, Leonardo, Ricardo Lopez and Dong-Gook have all been successful in front of goal, scoring eight goals a piece to date.
Can they match the class of 2006?
Standing in their way of a spot in the last four, or the East Zone finals if you will, are Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG, who are regarded by many as favourites for the title.
Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is currently in charge of the Red Eagles, and the Swede has several renowned foreigners and Chinese players at his disposal.
A decade ago, Jeonbuk were famously crowned Asian champions before winning the domestic title for the first time, but if they are to emulate the 2006 side a significant improvement in away form will be needed.
They travel to the Chinese capital for the first leg, and although it is generally regarded as an advantage to playing the second leg at home, a hefty loss away from home would spell the end of their campaign.
Their only away win in the competition thus far was the 3-0 win on Matchday 5 and a repeat of that result will all but ensure their spot in the last four.