The East Zone of 2020 AFC Champions League group stages conclude with eight teams in the East Zone moving on. The Round of 16 matches were confirmed on Friday. Beijing Guoan FC and FC Tokyo face each other in the first Round of 16 clash on December 6 followed by a match between Ulsan Hyundai and Melbourne Victory later in the day.
Vissel Kobe will take on Shanghai SIPG while Yokohama F. Marinos battle Suwon Samsung Bluewings the following day.
The semifinals in the East Zone will take place on December 10 followed by the semifinal on December 13 -- the winner of which will face West Asian champions Persepolis FC of Iran in the AFC Champions League title-decider at the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar on December 19.
How the group stages in East Zone panned out
Beijing were the trailblazers in Group E while Melbourne became the only Australian side to remain in the tournament after defeating FC Seoul 2-1 in their final group fixture. Thailand's Chiangrai United finished bottom on their ACL debut, but will have memories to cherish including a first win that came against Seoul.
Group F was dominated by K League 1 side Ulsan, but the second knockout spot was only decided on the final matchday when Tokyo edged A-League outfit Perth Glory 1-0 while Shanghai Shenhua crumbled to a 4-1 defeat to Ulsan and crashed out with no wins in their last three games.
The three-team Group G saw Suwon's 2-0 win over Vissel on the final matchday sending Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande packing as they fell to third on goal difference. Vissel, on the other hand, emerged group winners, but suffered defeats in their last two ties in the pool.
In Group H that pitted domestic champions from three different countries along with China's Shanghai SIPG, it was Japan's Yokohama who topped the standings behind Vítor Pereira's Shanghai. Jeonbuk and A-League champions Sydney finished their engagements with seven and five points respectively.
Beijing and Ulsan clearly a cut above the rest
There are two teams that have stood out from the rest of the field during the past couple of weeks in Qatar. Beijing and Ulsan were head and shoulders above the competition in their respective groups and have emerged clear favourites from the tournament's eastern conference.
Putting on a consistent showing with games coming thick and fast was always going to be a tough ask for sides in the tournament. And Bruno Genesio's Beijing and Kim Do-hoon's Ulsan are the only two East Asian sides that ended the group stage undefeated dropping just two points out of the available 18.
Beijing's success is built on their strength in depth with Renato Augusto and Jonathan Viera providing the creativity from midfield while Wang Ziming, Alan Carvalho and Zang Yuning all being productive up front. The defence featuring the likes of Yu Yang, Kim Min-jae and Yu Dabao has let in just four goals.
Ulsan, on the other hand, are not as well-oiled as Beijing, but have displayed a fine knack of eking out results with three of their five wins so far coming from goals scored on or after the 85th minute. But Ulsan are a lot that can improve with K League topscorer Junior Negrao yet to hit top gear in Qatar.
Yokohama, Vissel could spring surprises and JDT regret
When it comes to the ACL knockouts, recent evidence suggests you cannot count the Japanese sides out. J1 League sides have won the Asian title in two of the last three seasons with Kashima Antlers claiming it in 2018 and Urawa Red Diamonds doing so in 2017 and reaching the final last year.
All three Japanese clubs that entered ACL 2020 are well and alive with Vissel and Yokohama progressing as group winners and Tokyo making it through with a win in their final group tie. Ange Postecoglou's Marinos have looked particularly good going through the group phase with only one loss to Shanghai SIPG.
Vissel, with their talented squad that includes Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta, cannot be ruled out either as they comfortably eased through Group G, that was reduced to three teams following the withdrawal of Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
For JDT, sitting home watching the group transpire must have been a painful exercise. In a group decided on fine margins, Guangzhou were knocked out on goal difference by Suwon, whom the Malaysians had beaten 2-1 in March before government rules denied them the chance to resume their campaign in the Middle East.
Cannavaro faces heat at Guangzhou as Jeonbuk underwhelm
Guangzhou will not be playing a part in the last 16 of the Champions League for only the second time since they won their first continental crown in 2013. And the Chinese giants' premature exit from ACL has piled more pressure on their head coach Fabio Cannavaro.
The Guangzhou fans had already made their displeasure at the Italian World Cup winner clear after the side's unexpected defeat to Jiangsu Suning in the two-legged CSL title decider last month. And Cannavaro's cause hasn't been helped by a lackluster display in the ACL as they crashed out with only one win in four games.
Will the heads roll at the big-spending Chinese Super League side following a season without silverware? That is something worth keeping an eye on in the coming days as an impressive Beijing and an inconsistent Shanghai SIPG continue to fly the Chinese flag in the Asian Champions League.
Another side that failed to flatter during the restart was Jeonbuk who many considered one of the favourites for a third ACL scalp. Unfortunately, the recently-crowned South Korean champions failed to emulate their domestic form in Asia as they finished third behind Yokohama and Shanghai in Group H.