How A-Leagues teams can create history in Asia in dramatic end to AFC group action this week: Explainer

The 2023-24 AFC competitions enter their sixth and final matchday this week. Here is everything you need to know about the three Australian clubs involved across the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup.

Macarthur FC, Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City are capable of creating history this week, as the Isuzu UTE A-League’s three representatives in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competition.

The Bulls and Mariners are preparing to round out their respective AFC Cup group stage campaigns, while Melbourne City have done the same in the AFC Champions League.

For the first time in history, three A-Leagues clubs could qualify for the knockout phase of AFC competition should results go their way.

This is how things stand heading into the final matchday of the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup group stage.

Featured image credit: Left (top & bottom): Asian Football Confederation (AFC) 2023

Melbourne City

Melbourne City’s chances of progression to the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League were dealt a major blow on Tuesday night, with a late equaliser earning Zhejiang FC a point in a 1-1 draw at Ikon Park.

City began the night second behind Ventforet Kofu in Group H, but level on eight points; only the group winner qualifies for the knockouts automatically, with the three best second-placed finishers in groups across each region earning a place in the knockouts.

A second-half goal to Tolgay Arslan put City in the box seat to earn all three points, but then came a 99th-minute equaliser by Nyasha Mushekwi to earn Zhejiang a late draw.

Meantime Ventforet’s slender 3-2 win over Buriram United ensured the Japanese club finished the night on top of Group H. City finished the group stage on nine points; they started the night as the fourth-best second-placed team and now face a nervous wait to find out their Champions League fate.

But what does it mean for their qualification hopes?

Ulsan Hyundai have claimed one of three places in the knockout phase as a second-place finisher – and now it all rests on the results of two teams in Groups G and F respectively: Incheon United and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Both Incheon and Jeonbuk are on nine points – level with City – but Incheon have a greater goal difference, which Jeonbuk – level on +2 goal difference with City – have scored one more group stage goal (nine to City’s eight) giving them the ascendancy on the second-place standings.

Ranking of second-placed teams: Eastern Zone

1I Ulsan Hyundai (Qualified)6312128+410Round of 16
2G Incheon United5302118+39
3F Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors530297+29
4H Melbourne City623186+29
5J Urawa Red Diamonds (E)6213129+37

Incheon face Kaya FC tomorrow at 7pm (AEDT). Should Kaya win by two goals or more, City would jump Incheon to claim a spot in the knockouts.

Jeonbuk, meanwhile, face Bangkok United at home tomorrow at 9pm AEDT. Should Bangkok win, City would jump Jeonbuk into one of three qualification positions.

Kevin Muscat’s Yokohama F. Marinos are third in Group G behind Incheon; in the unlikely event Incheon lose by two goals or more to Kaya FC, City would not take Incheon’s place in the knockouts if Yokohama earn a point or more against Shandong Taishan in Muscat’s final game in charge of the J1 League club.

Read the AFC Champions League 2023-24 Competition Regulations

Central Coast Mariners

The Mariners head to the Philippines to take on Stallion Laguna in their final group game of the AFC Cup as the leaders of Group G. Mark Jackson’s side had the opportunity to confirm their status as group winners last time out but slipped at home to Terengganu FC in a 1-1 draw.

Should Terengganu lose to Bali United, the Mariners will be guaranteed to finish top regardless of their own result. Should Bali win and the Mariners lose to Stallion Laguna, the two clubs would finish level on 10 points but having defeated Bali twice in the group stage, the Mariners would progress on head-to-head record.

Should Terengganu and Bali draw, and the Mariners lose, both the Mariners and Terengganu would end the group stage on 10 points. Terengganu would win the group due to their head-to-head record against the Mariners (W1, D1).

The AFC Cup groups are split into five zones: West, South, Central, ASEAN and East. The Mariners are in the ASEAN Zone, where each group winner progresses to the knockouts as well as the best second-placed club among all groups in the same zone.

The ASEAN Zone consists of Group F, G and H. The Mariners lead Group G, while fellow A-Leagues club Macarthur currently lead Group F.

Watch Central Coast v Stallion Laguna, 7pm AEDT, on 10 PLAY.

Read the AFC Cup 2023-24 Competition Regulations

Macarthur FC

The Bulls are in the same boat as Central Coast: leading their group, but only just, with one game to play. It all boils down to a clash with Dynamic Herb Cebu, and considering the Philippines club’s performance in the tournament to date, Macarthur are odds-on to progress with a victory away from home.

Cebu have just four points on the board, and were beaten comfortably by the Bulls last time out in an 8-2 result in early October. Macarthur, meanwhile, have 12 – level with Cambodian club Phnom Penh Crown.

The Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast crew discuss Macarthur’s brilliant start to the season. Listen below or via Spotify, or Apple Podcasts.

Phnom Penh have an even easier task against Shan United, who have collected just one point, scored one goal and conceded 13 so far in the group stage.

Should both Macarthur and Phnom Penh win they will rise to 15 points apiece – but Macarthur will remain in first spot on the table. In head-to-head criteria, both sides beat each other once in the group stage. But, having scored five goals to Phnom Penh’s three, Macarthur holds a superior goal difference from their two matchups – which is the next separating factor on the table.

Watch this clash, 11pm AEDT, on 10 PLAY on THURSDAY night.

Read the AFC Cup 2023-24 Competition Regulations