The 2017 Asian Champions League has moved to the crucial knockout stage where teams only have two games to get things right or face being knocked out of the tournament.
The event began back in February with 32 teams drawn into 8 groups of 4 teams. Each team in the group played every other team home and away meaning each team played a total of 6 matches. With 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw, the top two teams in each group progressed to the first knockout stage, the Round of 16.
A total of 5 teams managed to come through the group stages without losing a game and they were Lekhwiya, Al-Ain, Al-Hilal, Kawasaki Frontale and Guangzhou Evergrande. Interestingly, the latter two teams in the list both came from Group G and finished just a point above Suwon Samsung Bluewings, who came third in the group.
The final fixtures in the group were very exciting and Guangzhou Evergrande and Suwon Samsung Bluewings played out a tremendous 2-2 draw. Unfortunately for the Bluewings, it was not enough to see them qualify from the group.
【2017 AFC Champions League: Guangzhou Evergrande vs. Suwon Samsung Bluewings】
The winners and runners-up from each group are split into West Region and East Region teams. The teams remain in these regions until the final due to the vast distances some teams would be forced to travel if drawn against each other.
The group winners get to host the second leg, meaning they have a chance to play in-front of their own fans in what is regarded as the most crucial match from the two legs. The aggregate score from both legs is added to decide the winner. The away goals rule does not apply in extra-time and a penalty shootout will be used to determine the winner if teams are level at the end of the second game.
Urawa Red Diamonds and FC Seoul played out a dramatic penalty shootout in the round of 16 last year with the latter coming through 7-6 after the teams finished level 3-3 on aggregate.
【2017 AFC Champions League: FC Seoul vs. Urawa Red Diamonds】
The favourites entering the 2017 Asian Champions League final stages are Guangzhou Evergrande, priced at 7/2 with bet365.
Since the format of the tournament changed in 2013, Guangzhou Evergrande has reached the final twice and won both times. Their most recent victory coming in 2015. The Chinese club has been drawn against Kashima Antlers who won their group with 12 points from their 6 games, achieving 2 points more than their opponents.
However, Guangzhou Evergrande did not lose a game whereas Kashima Antlers lost twice, both away from home to Muangthong United of Thailand and Australia’s Brisbane Roar. Therefore, expect Guangzhou Evergrande to win the first leg at home, priced at 8/13 with bet365, something which they will aim to do comfortably before heading to Japan for the second leg. Just behind their fellow Chinese club in the betting is Shanghai SIPG who is 5/1 with bookmaker bet365 to win the 2017 Asian Champions League.
They were also forced to settle for second place in their group behind Urawa Red Diamonds on goal difference and will meet fellow Chinese Super League team Jiangsu Suning in the Round of 16. Jiangsu Suning was very impressive defensively in the group stages and will need to be again if they are to see off Shanghai SIPG who was second in goal scoring.
This matchup is going to see a clash of styles but if Jiangsu Suning who is 11/2 with bet365 to win the match can score an away goal in the first leg and keep it tight at home, they have the potential to cause an upset. Jiangsu Suning is 9/1 with bet365 to win the Asian Champions League this season and makes a decent outside bet. However, their domestic league form has been poor and this could impact on their chances in this competition.
Looking at the West Region and the favourites to come through and make the final is none other than Al-Hilal of the Saudi Professional League. Al-Hilal, priced at 6/1 with bet365 to win the 2017 Asian Champions League, came through Group D without losing a game, winning 3 and drawing 3, which was good enough to see them top the group ahead of Persepolis. Al-Hilal knows what it takes to reach the final of the Asian Champions League having done so in 2014 but ultimately lost the final over two legs to Western Sydney Wanderers.
Ramon Diaz’s team has been paired with Esteghlal Khuzestan of the Persian Gulf Pro League in the Round of 16, an opponent that should pose little problem. It could be a matchup of few goals but Al-Hilal has the quality to come through and can be backed at 13/20 with bet365 to win the first leg.
The four above mentioned teams are the favourites to reach the semi-final but with one of Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning guaranteed to fall at the Round of 16 stage, this slightly opens the East Region draw.
Urawa Red Diamonds will be hoping to take advantage of the fact one of the tournament favourites will be eliminated in the Round of 16 but they must overcome Jeju United. The South Korean club finished second in Group H but were well adrift of Jiangsu Suning having lost at home to Adelaide United. Urawa Red Diamonds also lost two games but qualification was sealed before they lost their final game in the group and they enjoyed home success over Shanghai SIPG.
Urawa Red Diamonds, who are 11/8 with bet365 to win the first leg, are an exciting team to watch and should have too much fire power for Jeju United having scored an average of 3 goals per game in the group stage. If Urawa Red Diamonds were to make the quarter-finals and avoid the Chinese clubs in the draw, they have a great chance of at least reaching the semi-final and who knows what can happen from there. You can get 11/1 for Urawa Red Diamonds to win the 2017 Asian Champions League.
Back to the potential winners of the tournament and given the fact they have won two of the previous four finals in the current format, it’s hard to look beyond Guangzhou Evergrande. They may have failed to top their group but remained undefeated with a superior goal difference to anyone else and have landed a favourable draw in the round of 16.
They have a talented squad who are used to winning trophies led by the hugely experienced Luiz Felipe Scolari and can be backed at 7/2 to win the 2017 Asian Champions League.