Impressive quarter-finalists promise thrills
Kuala Lumpur: After a spectacular group stage and Round of 16, the cast for the 2018 AFC Champions League is down to the final eight teams.
Ahead of Wednesday’s draw at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur (4pm local time), join the-AFC.com as we take a look at the final eight challengers.
From the West Zone, we have Qatar’s Al Sadd and Al Duhail and Islamic Republic of Iran’s Esteghlal FC and Persepolis.
Japan’s Kashima Antlers, Tianjin Quanjian of China PR and Korea Republic clubs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Samsung Bluewings are the four teams who will be in the East Zone pots.
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Al Sadd SC
Al Sadd, who were grouped alongside Persepolis in Group C, had an eventful 2018 campaign where they recorded four wins and two losses to finish as the group runners-up behind the Iranians.
The two-time champions met Al Ahli Saudi FC in the Round of 16, where two first half goals from Boualem Khoukhi secured them a 2-1 win in the first leg.
In the return leg, Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah gave Al Sadd a dream start with a goal in the second minute but Al Ahli’s Claudemir de Souza equalised less than seven minutes later and took the lead through Muhannad Assiri going through into the half-time break.
However, Jesualdo Ferreira’s charges bounced back in the 70th minute when Bounedjah scored the equaliser to secure their spot in the quarter-finals 4-3 on aggregate.
Goals scored: 15
Leading scorer: Baghdad Bounedjah - 9 goals
Al Duhail SC
Al Duhail were unstoppable in the group stage, where they powered to six wins out of six in Group B to storm into the Round of 16.
Their next challenge came in the form of Al Ain, the 2003 champions, but Djamel Belmadi’s side continued their impressive form as they defeated the Emirati side 4-2 in the first leg , before booking their spot in the last eight with a emphatic 4-1 win in the return tie at home.
Having claimed the Qatar Stars League, Qatar Cup and Qatar Emir Cup domestically, Al Duhail will be the team to avoid in Wednesday’s draw.
Goals scored: 21
Leading scorer: Youssef El Arabi - 9 goals
Esteghlal had a slow start to their Group D campaign, where they opened with a 2-2 draw against Al Rayyan. Despite drawing twice more with Al Ain, they finished as group winners as they finished unbeaten.
They suffered their first defeat of the tournament against fellow Iranian side Zobahan FC in the first leg of the Round of 16, losing 1-0, but a Mame Thiam hat-trick in the return leg gave them a 3-1 win, maintaining their unbeaten home record as they progressed to the quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate.
Goals scored: 12
Leading scorer: Mame Thiam - 7 goals
Persepolis had a dream start in Group C, registering a win in their opening match, but lost 3-1 to Al Sadd on Matchday Two. And a goalless draw with FC Nasaf meant their qualification came down to Matchday Six.
Branko Ivankovic’s men did not find the back of the net that night but a third minute own goal by Al Sadd’s Morteza proved to be enough to propel Persepolis to the top of the group and a Round of 16 appearance.
Persepolis then suffered a 3-2 loss to Al Jazira in the first leg, but their away goals paid dividends a week later in the second leg when they secured a 2-1 victory to advance despite a 4-4 aggregate score.
Goals scored: 12
Leading scorer: Ali Alipour - 4 goals
Kashima Antlers finished their group stage campaign as Group H runners-up after registering two wins, three draws and one loss, to book a spot in the Round of 16 against Shanghai SIPG.
Go Aiwa’s side claimed a 3-1 win in the first leg, which gave Kashima the confidence they needed in the second leg.
Despite Shanghai forward Hulk’s brace in the return leg, Shoma Doi’s strike in the 42nd minute ensured Kashima a spot in the quarter-finals on a 4-3 aggregate.
Goals scored: 12
Leading scorer: Mu Kanazaki - 3 goals
Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Suwon Samsung Bluewings began their 2018 campaign with two consecutive defeats. Although they drew with Shanghai Shenhua at home on Matchday Three, the two-time champions emerged Group H winners after beating Kashima Antlers on the final match day to finish with 10 points.
Meeting fellow Korea Republic side Ulsan Hyundai in the Round of 16, Suwon returned home with a 1-0 first leg defeat. However, Seo Jung-won’s team scored an emphatic 3-0 win in the return to advance 3-1 on aggregate.
Goals scored: 11
Leading scorer: Dejan Damjanovic - 6 goals
Tianjin Quanjian earned their spot in Group E after beating Ceres Negros in the Play-off, and showed that they were serious contenders for the 2018 AFC Champions League title when they edged 2016 winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 4-2 on Matchday Four.
Their consistency - Tianjin suffered just one defeat - guaranteed qualification to the last 16 after finishing as group runners-up with 13 points.
Paulo Sousa’s side held Guangzhou Evergrande to a goalless draw in the first leg at home to set up an exciting return leg.
Despite Ricardo Goulart’s efforts in putting the two-time winners in front, Tianjin’s Alexandre Pato and Wang Jie equalised shortly after to bag the win on away goals.
Goals scored: 17
Leading scorer: Alexandre Pato - 4 goals (excluding Playoff)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
After missing out on the 2017 edition, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors opened their 2018 Group E campaign with three consecutive wins. Despite falling to Tianjin Quanjian in the corresponding fixture on Matchday Four, the 2006 and 2016 champions finished with back-to-back wins to top the group.
Choi Kang-hee’s men suffered a 3-2 loss to Thai League champions Buriram United in the first leg of the Round of 16 but showed their prowess at home the following week with Ricardo Lopes and Lee Jae-sung finding the back of the net to claim a 2-0 win, as they advanced 4-3 on aggregate.
Goals scored: 26
Leading scorer: Kim Shin-wook - 5 goals