The race to face Persepolis begins
- East Zone action in the AFC Champions League resumes on Wednesday
- Sixteen sides will compete to face Persepolis in the final
- Cedric Bakambu, Andres Iniesta and Renato Augusto are players to watch
Persepolis will represent the west in the AFC Champions League 2020. The question now is: which one of the remaining 16 teams from the east will join them in the 19 December showpiece?
Three stadiums – Al Janoub Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium and Education City Stadium – as well as Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, will stage the East Zone’s remaining action over a month.
Many eyes will be on two-time winners Jeonbuk Motors, who are seeking to complete a treble, having won a domestic league and cup this season. China PR's Guangzhou Evergrande also arrive in Doha hopeful of lifting the trophy for a third time.
Despite narrowly losing to Jeonbuk in Korea Republic’s FA Cup final, Ulsan Hyundai will be hoping to reproduce the form which saw them conquer Asia in 2012. Elsewhere, A-League champions Sydney FC are eager to go all the way in their ninth AFC Champions League campaign, while debutants Perth Glory and Vissel Kobe are determined to make a mark.
Guangzhou Evergrande v Suwon Bluewings
Having recently lost to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League final, Fabio Cannavaro's Guangzhou will be hoping to make amends on the continental front. Missing star man Paulinho due to injury, however, they face a tough test against a heavily-experienced Suwon. The teams drew 2-2 twice during the 2017 edition.
Yokohama F. Marinos v Jeonbuk Motors
Jose Morais knows his Jeonbuk side have it all to do in a group that also comprises Sydney FC, Shanghai SIPG and Yokohama F. Marinos. With just a point from the opening two matches in February, the K League giants know that they can't afford further slip-ups and will be motivated to avenge their 2-1 loss to leaders Yokohama in the rematch.
Melbourne Victory v Beijing Guoan
Mebourne and Beijing are no strangers to each other having met in the group stage in 2010. The previous meetings saw the Chinese outfit get the better with a win and a draw, and with Brazilian Renato Augusto and Congolese Cedric Bakambu raring to do, they will expect more of the same. The A-League side, for their part, will look to their new acquisition Ben Folami, who recently joined them on loan from English League One outfit Ipswich Town.
Players to watch
If his performances for Ulsan this season are anything to go by, Junior Negrao is set to frighten defences. The 33-year-old finished as the K League 2020's top scorer with 26 goals.
Beijing's Bakambu also heads into Champions League action on the back of a series of brilliant performances on the local scene. The 29-year-old was the Super League’s leading marksman this term with 14 goals as his side finished in the top three.
Vissel Kobe, of course, can draw inspiration from their captain Andres Iniesta. The Barcelona and Spain legend has made his presence strongly felt since moving to Japan two years ago. Notably, he helped Vissel to Emperor's Cup glory last year, before going on to win the Japanese Super Cup in February.
Do you know?
Safety is of top priority in the AFC Champions League with a series of health regulations – similar to those in last month's West Zone campaign – implemented. Notably, all players and officials were required to undergo COVID-19 testing before their departure from home and again upon their arrival in Qatar, while subsequent tests will be conducted every three to six days.