Kuala Lumpur: The 2019 AFC Champions League returns this week, with the eight sides in the East Zone taking to the field for the first legs of their Round of 16 fixtures.
With five former champions – including the previous four winners – and a pair of same-country clashes, there is plenty to whet the appetite, so the-AFC.com has picked out five things to look out for ahead of the action.
Nagaki: Kashima need to raise their game after 'unstable' Group Stage performances
Ibaraki: Kashima Antlers midfielder Ryota Nagaki admits that the defending champions will need to improve if they wish to keep their AFC Champions League defence going into the quarter-finals ahead of Tuesday's Round of 16 meeting with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
The holders grip on their Asian crown was close to slipping off completely in the Group Stage of the 2019 edition, but a come-from-behind win over China PR's Shandong Luneng on Matchday Six saw Kashima of Japan extend their stay on the Continental throne until at least the Round of 16.
However, defeating countrymen Sanfrecce and remaining among the final eight will require the Ibaraki club to lift their performances according to Nagaki.
Kim Shin-wook expects tight contest with 'more experienced' Shanghai SIPG
Shanghai: Wednesday's AFC Champion League Round of 16 clash between the champions of Korea Republic and China PR is a repeat of the 2016 quarter-finals, but Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors striker Kim Shin-wook expects a much tighter outcome this time around.
Shanghai SIPG's maiden appearance in the AFC Champions League three years ago was ended in comprehensive fashion when they came up against eventual winners Jeonbuk in the last eight.
After a goalless draw at Shanghai Stadium, the K-League side turned on the style to defeat their Chinese Super League visitors 5-0 in Jeonju to sail into the semi-finals.
Sasaki admits ‘more motivation’ against defending champions Kashima
Hiroshima: As Sanfrecce Hiroshima prepare to face domestic rivals Kashima Antlers in the 2019 AFC Champions League Round of 16, Sho Sasaki has admitted the J.League side have extra motivation being up against the holders.
Sanfrecce will go into the first leg at Kashima Soccer Stadium as the form team in the competition, having won five successive games on the Continent to progress to the last 16 on top of Group F.
Next up is Kashima, whose own qualification to the knockout rounds was only confirmed after a come-from-behind 2-1 victory against Shandong Luneng in their final group game as they have yet to hit top form.
Kuala Lumpur: With the 2019 AFC Champions set to return in just a few days time, the striking thing about the Round of 16 encounters is that half of them feature sides from the same country going head-to-head.
In the East, defending champions Kashima Antlers are tasked with fellow J.League team Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Chinese duo Guangzhou Evergrande and Shandong Luneng will also lock horns.
On the other side of the Continent, meanwhile, Qatari powerhouses Al Sadd and Al Duhail face off, while there is also an intriguing Riyadh–Jeddah clash between rivals Al Hilal and Al Ahli. Both matches, however, will not take place until August.
Ahead of the ties, the-AFC.com looks back on five other times the last 16 has pitted clubs from the same domestic league against one another.