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AFC Predictions Part 1: Assessing the Groups

(Old school- from www.pes-patch.com)
I think this has been one of the more interesting AFC Champions League (ACL) years in recent history.  Teams expected to do well, such as Guangzhou Evergrande (champions), Jiangsu Suning (nouveau riche), and Gamba Osaka have clearly struggled and under achieved.  Teams that traditionally make it to the knockout rounds will stay at home (Pohang), could stay at home (Suwon Bluewings), or just eke through (Jeonbuk).  Therefore, with four games having been played in the ACL, I thought I would look at the group results for the East Zone in part one and make predictions for potential round of 16 match-ups in part two.  

There are four groups for teams from east Asia.  First, I will look at how each team is doing in their group and league.  Then I will try and predict how likely it is that they will make it to the round of 16.  All data is courtesy of soccerway.com.

(The mood of  each participant in the group- from zimbio.com)
Group E
(from soccerway.com)
FC Tokyo: surprise winners over Jiangsu on the road in the last fixture, they are now sitting at the top of their group.  In the J1 League, Tokyo have been abysmal and currently languish in 11th place with 3 wins, 4 losses, 8 goals for, and 11 goals against.  They lost their last fixture to Kawasaki Frontale at home 4-2.

Jeonbuk Motors: in the other big surprise, Jeonbuk lost to Vietnamese side Binh Duong on the road 3-2 in their last fixture.  In the K-League, they are in second place, underachieving as many expected them to dominate the league.  However, they have struggled to score goals and keep leads, as their manager Choi Kang-hee has done the team no favors with frequent rotating.  If Jeonbuk fail to qualify for the round of 16, Choi Kang-hee's line-up choices and substitutions will be questioned, especially in the two road losses.

Jiangsu Suning: having acquired Ramires and Alex Teixeira in the transfer window, I would say more was to be expected from them.  Instead, other than a 3-2 victory over Jeonbuk, they have struggled in their group.  However, Jiangsu are at the top of the Chinese Super League (CSL) right now.  There is too much talent for them to fail to qualify for the next round.

Binh Duong: surprise winners over Jeonbuk Motors, they have matched last year's ACL points total and with two games left, can build on it.  In the V-League 1, Binh Duong sit in 4th place with threewins, one draw, and one loss and have been improving throughout the season.

Upcoming Fixtures

FC Tokyo: play Jeonbuk at home next and Binh Duong on the road.  .

Jeonbuk Motors: play FC Tokyo on the road next and Jiangsu at home.

Jiangsu Suning: play Binh Duong at home and Jeonbuk Motors

Binh Duong: play Jiangsu on the road and FC Tokyo at home.

(Adriano has been unstoppable- from namu.wiki)
Group F

(from soccerway.com)
FC Seoul:  dominating their group, Seoul should have won their last fixture against Shandong Luneng.  They have scored the most goals (3.5 per game) in the ACL and qualification to the next round is almost guaranteed.  Seoul currently sit in first in the K-League.

Shandong Luneng:  in their last fixture, Shandong celebrated their draw against Seoul as if they won the ACL.  In the CSL, Shandong started poorly and were struggling, especially on defense, but they have been improving and are now in 6th place.   Having spent so much money, $50.5 million dollars, failure is not an option in either the ACL or the CSL for gaffer Mano Menezes.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima:  struggled coming out of the gate, losing to Shandong at home and Seoul on the road.  They have won their last two games against Buriram United to get back into contention.  In the J1 League, Hiroshima sit in 5th place with three wins, two draws, and two losses.  However, they have scored 13 goals, but have conceded nine.

Buriram United:  the group's whipping boys, they lost all four games and failed to score while conceding 14 goals (3.5 per game), so there is no way Buriram are going to the round of 16.  In the Thai League, they are 2nd place now after a dramatic last minute win over Chonburi.

Upcoming Fixtures

FC Seoul: play Buriram United at home and Sanfrecce Hiroshima on the road.

Shandong Luneng: play Sanfrecce Hiroshima at home and Buriram United on the road.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima:  play Shandong Luneng on the road and FC Seoul at home.

Buriram United: play FC Seoul on the road and Shandong Luneng at home.

(Some might disagree with the following quote: "Suwon have traded their injury prone defender Hwang Jae-won for striker Cho Dong-geon in what seems like a shrewd piece of business." from www.bluewings.kr)
Group G
(from soccerway.com)
Shanghai SIPG:  winning in Osaka in their last fixture has helped Shanghai SIPG put their stamp on the group.  As with Seoul, Shanghai SIPG are almost sure to go through to the round of 16.  In the CSL, Shanghai are now in 3rd place, having improved upon a poor start, but they are struggling to score goals (7 in 5 games, 4 against Liaoning Whowin).  Qualification in the ACL is all but assured, but if Shaghai SIPG's league form continues to be erratic, manager Sven Eriksson might be looking for another job next season.

Melbourne Victory: having won their first game against Shanghai SIPG and earning two miraculous road draws, Melbourne are in second place.  In the league, they sit in sixth place, struggling but nonetheless winning the last A-League playoff spot.  Unfortunately, they were knocked out of the playoff by Brisbane Roar who scored two goals in the last five minutes to win.  

Suwon Bluewings: dominating at home against Gamba Osaka and Melbourne victory, but nonetheless dropping points, qualifying for the round of 16 is going to be very difficult.  In the K-League, Suwon sit in 6th place with just one win this year as they have struggled to replace departed striker Jong Tae-se.  

Gamba Osaka:  last year's semifinalists, I feel more was expected from Gamba Osaka but instead, they sit at the bottom of the group with only two points.  In the J1 League, Gamba are in 8th place after six games with three wins and four losses.   Having done poorly in the ACL and the J1 League, Gamaba's manager Kenta Hasegawa must be worried that if things do not turn around he will soon be unemployed.  

Upcoming Fixtures

Shanghai SIPG: play Melbourne Victory at home and Suwon Bluewings on the road.  .

Melbourne Victory: play Shanghai SIPG on the road and Gamba Osaka at home.  

Suwon Bluewings: play Gamba Osaka on the road and Shanghai SIPG at home.

Gamba Osaka: play Suwon Bluewings at home and Melbourne Victory on the road.

(Phil Scolari being introduced as the new head coach of Guangzhou Evergrande- from youtube.com)
Group H
(from soccerway.com)
Sydney FC: surprising leaders of Group H, they have three of four and will most likely qualify for the round of 16.  In the A-League however, they have struggled and finished in seventh place, failing to qualify for the playoffs while having an absolutely mediocre season (8 wins, 10 draws, 9 losses, 35 goals for, 36 goals against).

Urawa Reds: coming back from a two goal deficit on the road against Guangzhou Evergrande, that result has helped them sit comfortably in second place.  In the J1 League, Urawa sit in third place, but are only one point behind league leaders Kawasaki Frontale.

Pohang Steelers:  started out really well, gaining a point on the road against last year's ACL champions Guangzhou Evergrande and beating Urawa at home.  Since then, Pohang has stalled losing to Sydney FC twice, once at home and once on the road.  In the K-League, Pohang are in 10th place, having failed to win in four games.

Guangzhou Evergrande:  after winning last year's ACL, a repeat was expected.  On their roster they have Paulinho, Ricardo Goulart, and shocked the world by acquiring Jackson Martinez from Atheltico Madrid.  Therefore, to sit in last place in the group with only two points must surely be seen as an underachievement.  Losing on the road to Urawa and Sydney FC did not help, but throwing away a two goal lead at home against Urawa has surely compounded their misery.  Guangzhou are doing much better in the league, sitting in 2nd place while scoring 11 goals in five games.  That being said, manager Phil Scolari will most likely be fired if they fail to qualify for the round of 16.  Their previous manager, Fabio Cannavaro, was let go for less.

Upcoming Fixtures

Sydney FC: play Urawa Reds at home and Guangzhou Evergrande on the road.

Urawa Reds: play Sydney FC on the road and Pohang Steelers at home.

Pohang Steelers:  play Guangzhou Evergrande at home and Urawa Reds on the road.

Guangzhou Evergrande:  play Pohang on the road and Sydney FC at home.

In part two, I will pick who will move on from each group and how they will fare in the round of 16.

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