Beijing Guoan seek spot in AFC Champions League knockout stage
Beijing must avoid loss in Hiroshima to qualify for place in Champions League knockout stage
Even defeat at the hands of J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima might not be enough to deny Beijing Guoan a place in the AFC Champions League's last 16, as the club from the capital seek to reach the knockout phase for the first time since 2010.
Guangzhou Evergrande have already secured their berth in the round of 16 of the continental championship, and Beijing will join them if they avoid defeat in Hiroshima against a side that has lacked the cutting edge shown in the club's maiden title win in the J.League last season.
With the Japanese champions having nothing to fight for but pride, and coach Hajime Moriyasu expected to field a weakened team as he did in last week's draw with Bunyodkor, Aleksandar Stanojevic's side should pick up the point needed to ensure there are two Chinese Super League clubs in the next round.
A loss would not be the end of Beijing's hopes either, should Pohang Steelers fail to defeat Bunyodkor in their meeting in South Korea, as the tension builds in the final round of matches in group G.
"The players know the match is very important and I hope they play hard to win the match," said Stanojevic (pictured). "Hiroshima are a good team, but we know a lot about them.
"We must be solid in defence as they have good attacking players," he added. "We are under a lot of pressure, but I want my players to relax."
The last time two Chinese sides reached the knockout rounds of the AFC Champions League was 2005, when Shenzhen Jianlibao and Shandong Luneng advanced to the quarter-finals, and there remains a slim chance that number might be further swollen this season.
Guizhou Renhe host already eliminated Suwon Bluewings in group H tonight knowing a win could take them into the last 16, if group winners Kashiwa Reysol do not lose against Australia's Central Coast Mariners. And Jiangsu Sainty go into their group E meeting with Vegalta Sendai on Wednesday needing to beat the J.League side and hope Thailand's Buriram United do not win against FC Seoul, who have already secured top spot.
Meanwhile, officials may be forced to tally yellow and red cards or even hold a special lottery to decide the last 16.
Group C is the only pool where both qualifying berths, and top spot, have been decided. In group B, both spots are still available and all four teams could finish top.
With Buriram - vying to become the first Thai team to qualify for the knockout stages - and Vegalta Sendai tied on points, head-to-head record, goal difference and goals scored, they may be relying on their disciplinary record if both teams win or draw to clinch second spot behind group winners FC Seoul.
Should Japan's Sendai - on seven yellow cards, compared to Buriram's 15 and one red - suffer a meltdown against Jiangsu Sainty, qualification could be decided by a lottery at AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.