All three Australian teams could theoretically secure qualification to the knockout stages of Asian competition this week during the penultimate group stage round of the ACL and AFC Cup.
The structure of AFC club competitions has always had quirks laying around every corner, but as we approach the conclusion of the group stage, we are able to see with increasing certainty what the fate of each A-League team will be.
Progression to the knockout stage is not just important to the clubs competing, but also for Australia’s standing in the AFC Competition Ranking system, where our coefficient has suffered in recent years.
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Ventforet Kofu v Melbourne City – JIT Recycle Ink Stadium, Wednesday 29th November 9:00pm AEDT
In the Champions League, only the group winners are guaranteed progression through to the next round.
Of the five groups competing in the East zone, only the three-best runners up will also qualify. The same process is used in the West before the zone champions meet in the final.
It’s likely that with a win against Kofu, Melbourne City will at least qualify as one of those best-placed runners up.
However, if Arthur Papas’ Buriram United were to drop points against Zhejiang, a win on Wednesday night would be enough to secure City top spot with a game to spare.
This is because the AFC use head-to-head records as a tiebreaker before goal difference when teams are level on points.
City hold a 2-1 aggregate record over Buriram and drew their opening fixture to a visiting Kofu, meaning that a win plus a three-point gap would be enough.
A loss however would be disastrous for Aurelio Vidmar’s side, making first place in the group unachievable and forcing them to rely on other results to squeeze through in second.
This means a draw against Kofu before returning to play their final fixture at home against bottom-placed Zhejiang would still be an acceptable scenario.
Central Coast Mariners
Central Coast Mariners v Terangganu – Central Coast Stadium, Wednesday 29th November 7:00pm AEDT
Fortunately, the Mariners’ equation is a simple one: a win secures top of the group.
But a loss would mean likely elimination from the competition, such is the brutal nature of the AFC Cup qualification process.
Of the three groups in the ASEAN zone, just the single best runner up will progress to the zonal semi-finals in addition to the three group winners.
That second-place qualifier is almost certainly going to come from Group F, where Macarthur and Phnom Penh Crown both sit on nine points, meaning it’s first or bust for Central Coast.
A draw would still leave their destiny in their own hands, but the Mariners will be looking to get the job done at home this week in front of their own fans.
Macarthur FC v Shan United – BG Pathum Stadium (Thailand), Thursday 30th November 7:00pm AEDT
A Macarthur victory can guarantee top spot in the group if Cambodian outfit Phnom Penh Crown lose at home to Cebu FC, again due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But, if Vietnamese side Hai Phong share the points with PSM Makassar of Indonesia in Group G, then a Bulls win would secure the best runners up position at the very worst, regardless of the Phnom Penh result.
Yes, a draw in another group could send Macarthur through, the AFC Cup is that convoluted.
Macarthur’s scenario did get slightly more complicated however, as they were forced to relocate their fixture against Shan United to Thailand.
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