TOKYO: Japanese clubs will look to return to prominence when the Asian Champions League resumes on Thursday, with three J-League outfits among the eight teams remaining in the eastern side of the draw.
It has been four years since Kashima Antlers became the last side from Japan to win the title but at least one J-League outfit is guaranteed to feature in Saturday's quarter-final draw.
Yokohama F Marinos, Urawa Red Diamonds and Vissel Kobe have been granted home advantage for the eastern half of the knockout rounds, with the last 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals all being played in Saitama, north of Tokyo, over the coming week.
Domestic league leaders Yokohama face Kobe on Thursday with the side led by Australian coach Kevin Muscat going into the clash in impressive form.
The former Melbourne Victory defender has rejuvenated the squad since taking over from Ange Postecoglou and Yokohama lead the J-League standings by five points with Kobe languishing in the relegation zone.
Ricardo Rodriguez's Urawa, meanwhile, are looking at the continental scene for success after their domestic challenge failed to ignite.
The two-time Asian champions are bogged down in mid-table in the J-League and face a Johor Darul Ta'zim side on Friday that eliminated 2020 winners Ulsan Hyundai in the group phase.
Johor, however, will have to overcome the recent loss of coach Benjamin Mora, who left last month for personal reasons.
Hector Bidoglio has replaced the Mexican and, while Johor have continued winning on the home front, it remains to be seen if the upheaval will impact on their continental hopes.
Another two-time winner, South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors, will take on compatriots Daegu FC on Thursday confident of advancing to the last eight.
Daegu go into the game with a new coach after Alexandre Gama quit on Sunday following a horrendous run of form in the K-League.
In his place has come former assistant Choi Won-kwon and the odds are stacked against a club making their second appearance in the knockout rounds of the continental championship.
Hong Kong's Kitchee have freshened up a squad that contains the tournament's all-time leading goal scorer, Dejan Damjanovic, ahead of their meeting on Friday with BG Pathum United from Thailand.
Kitchee are the first club from Hong Kong to reach the knockout rounds but will face a stiff challenge to progress further ahead of Makoto Teguramori's side.
Teams in west Asia will play their knockout round matches in February with the final, which sees the best team from either side of the continent go head-to-head over two legs, due to be played on Feb 19 and 26 next year.