East Zone teams are poised on a knife-edge as the AFC Champions League round of 16 second leg gets underway on Tuesday.
A spot in the quarter-finals beckons for FC Tokyo who holds a 2-1 lead over Shanghai SIPG from last week’s fixture at the Ajinomoto Stadium. Kota Mizunuma’s brace leaves the J.League side with a slender lead heading to China.
Hiroshi Jofuku was pleased with FC Tokyo’s performance at home, and will be looking to play it safe in China; “Now we can qualify from a draw. We felt how strong Shanghai is from that game. Individually and tactically, they are a very good team and we have to play away. We are fully prepared for it, though, and don’t want to let down those fans who traveled here with us.”
Wu Lei’s goal for Shanghai in the first leg means that a 1-0 win for the home side will be enough to send them through to the quarter-finals.
After their weekend win in the CSL over Hangzhou Greentown F.C., Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side will be hoping to keep up the momentum going into Tuesday’s fixture.
“I believe we will qualify. We are playing at home and we are now in a very positive spirit. We have to score, to give an entertaining match. In the meantime we have to keep focusing on not only attacking but also a good defence,” said the Swede.
Melbourne Victory and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will look to draw first blood in their match in Jeonju with both sides playing out at 1-1 draw in the first leg.
The home side go into the tie with the edge courtesy of an away goal at AAMI Park last week. A win or a goalless draw will see them through to the quarter-finals for the seventh time.
“The players were tired after the long trip to Australia but one by one, they have recovered,” Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee told the official AFC website. “It is not going to be easy but the players have been working hard and are looking forward to the game.”
The Australian side will travel to Korea Republic looking to avenge their 2014 heartbreak in the competition, when a strong penalty shout was waved away leaving Jeonbuk to advance to the knockout stage at Melbourne’s expense.
Should they lose again, it will be a farewell for the man who still holds the record for most goals in an international fixture, Archie Thompson. Back in 2001, Thompson netted 13 times against American Samoa in a 31-0 hammering.
The 37-year-old striker announced his retirement at the end of the season and was reduced to tears in the first leg after receiving a standing ovation by the home crowd.
Come Wednesday, and it will be an equally closely-contested affair. Urawa Red Diamonds will look to maintain their first leg lead over FC Seoul as the sides take on one another in the Korean capital. Tomoya Ugajin’s volley leaves The Reds needing only a draw at Sangam Stadium.
Stuart Woodward of J.League Regista feels the pressure could get to The Reds; “I think they are the most complete team in Japan right now, but recently that has weighed them down.”
Looking back on previous seasons, Woodward said, “They’ve had some excruciating end of season collapses. Can they win it? Yes. Will they? I’m not quite there yet…”
FC Seoul columnist John Emanuelson believes overturning the first leg deficit hinges on star forwards Dejan Damjanović and Adriano; “I think Seoul are going to need Dejan at his best to control the flow of the game and create chances for Adriano.”
“Seoul has played seven to eight games a month and I think it is catching up to the players. I am really hoping that a week off will help Dejan’s fitness.”
In the final fixture, Australia’s second representative also goes into the second leg in a stalemate. Sydney FC played out a one-all draw against Shangdong Luneng last week.
With that crucial away goal in Jinan, the Sky Blues will be licking their lips at the chance of a quarter-final berth.
Centre back Matt Jurman called on supporters to come out in force; “It’s probably the biggest game in the club’s history. We’ve never been this far in the ACL. It’s a massive game and hopefully all the fans come out and support us.”
Shangdong manager Mano Menezes, however, is confident going into the crucial fixture. “We have been playing better away from home and if we have a little luck then we can win,’ said the Brazilian.
“Playing in Asia and playing in the league are different. The players have confidence. Of course, Sydney is a good and strong team and we know that it will not be easy but our aim is to get to the next stage.”