November 30 – Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale and South Korea’s Pohang Steelers have both maintained 100% records in the East zone group stages of the AFC Champions League, and with just one left game are already qualified for the knock-out rounds.
Pohang Steelers showed why they are favourites for the title by delivering a 2-0 win over Vietnam’s Hanoi FC, making it five out of five and 15 points. The Steelers have already beaten last year’s AFC Champions League winners, Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds who are second in the group on seven points, but need to beat Hanoi FC in their final group game if they are to challenge for one of the three best runners-up spots.
This season will see eight teams from each of the AFC’s east and west regions head into the knockout round of 16. Previously teams from the two regions would not have met until the final.
Only group winners qualify automatically, with six further spots (three from each region) allocated for the best runners-up from the group stage.
In Group F Thailand’s Bangkok Utd sealed their spot in the knockout rounds with a late 1-0 win over Singapore’s Lion City Sailors. Bangkok, on 13 points, are four points ahead of South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai. The two meet in the group’s final game.
In Group G China’s Shandong Taishan are pretty much guaranteed to go through on 12 points and after a 6-1 home win over Kaya FC-Ilioilo from the Philippines, have built a big goal difference. Second in Group G are South Korea’s Incheon Utd who are level on 9 points with Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos.
Shandong meet Yokohama in the final game, while Incheon look to have the easier task against Kaya FC-Ilioilo.
Group H is the tightest group in Champions League qualifying with all four teams in with a chance of winning the group.
Ventforet Kofu from Japan and Australia’s Melbourne City head the group on 8 points but Thailand’s Buriram United and China’s Zhejiang FC are both only two points behind.
Melbourne host Zhejiang and Ventforet Kofu travel to Buriram for the winner-takes-all final round of group games.
The 10 group winners along with the three best runners-up of each Zone will meet in the Knockout Stages to be played from February to April 2024 before the final is held over two legs on May 11 and 18, 2024.
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