Kuala Lumpur- Iranian club champions Esteghlal will be the clear favorites in the West and Central Asian Group, while the East Asian zone looks to be a much closer affair when the Asian Club Championship (ACC) resumes with the regional quarter -final next month, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Friday.
Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been chosen as the
centralized venue for the West and Central Asian quarter-final group
matches which begins on February 6, AFC said in a statement on Friday.
"While Al Wahda of the UAE will be fancying t heir chances at home
in the four-day league format competition, it would be a huge surprise
if Esteghlal do not emerge as one of the two teams to advance to the
Asian Club Championship semi-finals," it said. AFC said after scraping past Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in the previous round, Esteghlal will try and reaffirm their strength in the Middle East with convincing performances against Al Kuwait (Kuwait), Nasar Kasri (Uzbekistan) and Al Wahda.
The Iranian side were losing finalists in the Asian Club Championship to
Japan's Jubilo Iwata in 1999. The competition in the eastern zone, on
the other hand, is expected to be a tighter affair with the likes of
Dalian Shide (China), Kashima Antlers (J apan), Suwon Samsung (Korea)
and Anyang LG (Korea) involved in the four-day competition in Seogwipo,
South Korea that begins on February 24. Having long dominated their domestic league, Dalian side are slowly proving their worth in regional competitions. The Chinese champions lost in the cup winners' cup final to Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia last season, but with Chinese internationals like Ha o Hai Dong, Sun Jihai, Zhang Enhua, Li Ming and Wang Peng in the squad, they are expected to give the other Asian clubs a hard run for their money.
Japanese club champions Kashima Antlers have an array of stars in their
squad as well with ten former and present Japanese internationals in the
team, including the likes of Atsushi Yanagisawa, Takayuki Suzuki, Koji
Nakata, Naoki Soma and Mitsuo Ogasaw ara, who formed the backbone of
their 2000 Japan-league winning team. Suwon and Anyang will probably enjoy the familiar setting of Seogwipo the most as they vie for the top two qualifying spots. Both teams had little trouble getting to the quarter-finals, scoring a combined total of 29 goals in the last round of the competition against sides from Sri La nka and Bangladesh.
Suwon had a largely disappointing K-league (Korea) season in 2001 with
Ko Jung-So missing through injury, and although the reigning asian club
champions are still without their star midfielder, they still possess
enough quality to successfully defend t heir crown. West ACC q-finals
schedule. The West Asian quarter-finals of the 21st Asian Club
Championship will be held at the Al-Nahyan stadium in Abu Dhabi, United
Arab Emirates from February 6-10. Seeking to make the finals will be Al
Kuwait of Kuwait, Nasaf Karsi of Uzbekistan, Al Wahda of UAE and Iranian