Ventforet, Marinos, Urawa aim for AFC Champions League advancement on final day of group stage

Ventforet, Marinos, Urawa aim for AFC Champions League advancement on final day of group stage

The AFC Champions League group stage is down to its final matchday and Ventforet Kofu, Yokohama F·Marinos and Urawa Reds all have a chance to join Kawasaki Frontale in the knockout stages.

Ventforet enter the week top of Group H, but only on tiebreakers. They are level with Melbourne City on points, making it crucial that they win at Buriram United on the final day and preferably by multiple goals. They beat the Thai club earlier in the competition, which will surely give Ventforet confidence that they can keep their phenomenal run going. Kofu have already had a legendary run as a J2 club winning the Emperor’s Cup to impressing in the AFC Champions League, but will be aiming for even more with a berth into the round of 16.

Marinos have more work to do, sitting third in Group G. The Tricolor are level on points with second place Incheon United, though, and play first place Shandong Taishan to round out the group stage, so they are very much in the running to not just advance, but win the group.

If Yokohama defeat Shandong, they will move level on points with the Chinese club and will hold the tiebreaker, guaranteeing them at least second place. Their point total would also be enough to advance as one of the tournament’s top second place teams, so it’s a simple "win and in" scenario for Marinos, with a chance to even top the group.

It’s not nearly as clean for Urawa. The Reds are second in Group J, have no chance of winning the group, and are playing catch-up to advance as a top second place team with only seven points. They are away to Hanoi FC this week, a team they beat 6-0 in their first meeting. A win would push Urawa to 10 points, which may be enough to qualify for the knockout stages as a second place team, but they will likely want to aim for a multi-goal victory to boost their goal differential, which may be the difference in whether the reigning Asian champions go through.

Frontale have no such worries, having already clinched first place in Group I with a perfect 15 points from five matches and a tournament-best +11 goal difference. They travel to South Korea for a meeting with Ulsan Hyundai this week, but with their spot in the round of 16 secure, their focus will likely be about getting prepared for the Emperor's Cup Final on the weekend.

With one Meiji Yasuda J.League team through to the knockout stages of the Asian championship and three more all in the mix to move on, the final matchday of the group stage has big implications. Japan could send all four of their representatives to the final 16, which would be massive for the participating clubs and the league as Japanese football continues to shine on the international stage.