FC Tokyo’s 1-0 loss to Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande ended all J.League interest in the 2012 AFC Champions League, making it three tournaments in four in which Japanese teams have failed to progress beyond the Round of 16 since it was introduced in 2009.
Despite dominating possession, the Gas had fewer opportunities of note, Muriqui proving especially wasteful for the Southern China Tigers, and it wasn’t until the belated introduction of Hiroki Kawano that they were able to convert sustained possession into an attacking threat, his first touch a cross for Lucas which was headed against the woodwork. The transformation was almost instantaneous, and manager Ranko Popovic may reflect on how his side might have performed had he been allowed more than the 10 minutes in total he spent on the pitch.
The potent attacking line of Cleo, Miriqui and Gao Lin, with the Argentine midfielder Dario Conca assisting between the lines and new manager Marcello Lippi at the helm, will provide difficult opposition for most sides, particularly at the Tianhe Stadium, but the AFC must surely now revisit the Round of 16 and extend it to a standard two-leg stage, rather than the single elimination contest as it currently stands. The 2012 competition saw six of the eight group winners and subsequent home sides advancing to the quarter-finals, with just Bunyodkor winning away without the need for a penalty shootout, and making this 19 of 24 teams since 2010 who have won at home.