SEOUL, South Korea — Michael Laudrup and Fabio Cannavaro were giants of the global game as players and can take a big step toward coaching success in Asia this week by guiding their teams to the knockout stage of the Asian Champions League.
With four games of the group phase completed and two to go, both Europeans are well-placed to take one of the top two spots in their respective groups and progress.
Former Real Madrid and Juventus center back Cannavaro succeeded Marcello Lippi at Chinese giant Guangzhou Evergrande in November and a draw at FC Seoul will be enough for the Italian, who has already spent around $30 million to bring Brazilian stars Ricardo Goulart and Alan to a club that has won the last four Chinese Super League titles.
Laudrup, who played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, captured the Qatar league title earlier this month with Lekhwiya and a win at home to Iran's Persepolis will take the Doha team to the second round if Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr fails to defeat Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan.
"Things are not determined yet as all the teams in the group still have a chance to advance to the knockout stage and we should put more effort to achieve our target," said Laudrup, who was fired by English Premier League club Swansea City in February 2014 and arrived in Doha five months later.
"There were a lot of challenges this season," the former Denmark international said of his success at the club so far. "We had national competitions. We had players injured. It was very, very tough. You can't compare with the Spanish League or the Premier League. This was tough because there were many things that we had to deal with during the season."
Guangzhou won its first three games in Group G before losing 2-1 to Kashima Antlers of Japan and will be without suspended midfielders Zou Zheng and Huang Bowen for the visit to South Korea.
"We have to remain calm and confident and focus on the two games remaining," 2006 World Cup winning captain Cannavaro said. "I am confident that we can get the job done if we put in the work."
The showdown with FC Seoul is a replay of the 2013 continental final, but there are few thoughts of revenge on the minds of the South Korean team that is struggling domestically. A 5-1 thrashing on Sunday at the hands of fierce local rivals Suwon Bluewings leaves Choi Yong-soo's men just above the K-League relegation zone.
Defending champion Western Sydney Wanderers drew with Seoul in the previous round and hosts Japan's Kashima Antlers in Australia. If the seven time J-League champion loses, then dreams of a first Asian title will be over for another year.
A win keeps the Wanderers very much in contention for the knockout stage to take minds off a hugely disappointing A-League campaign. The team has spent much of the current season rooted to the bottom of the domestic standings although a 2-1 win over Adelaide United on Saturday moved the team into ninth and improved confidence levels.
Suwon of South Korea, second in Group G, can progress if it wins away at Japan's Urawa Reds while group leader Beijing Guoan only needs to draw at home against Brisbane Roar.
The winner of the game between Group E's top two teams Kashiwa Reysol of Japan and South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will be certain of a place in the second round, while a draw will be enough for both if Shandong Luneng of China fails to defeat the already eliminated Binh Duong of Vietnam.
On the western half of the draw — the 32 teams are divided into two sections of 16 split on geographical lines — 2014 finalist Al Hilal can seal its place in the knockout stage for the seventh time in succession. The Riyadh giant travels to Uzbekistan to face Lokomotiv looking for the win.
Lokomotiv is still hopeful of a top two finish as, despite losing 6-2 to Al Sadd in the third round, the Central Asians thrashed the 2011 champion 5-0 in the return match at home. That result means that even a win for Al Sadd, level on points with Al Hilal, against Foolad of Iran may not be enough.
Iran will have two teams in the last 16 if Persepolis defeats Lekhwiya and Naft Tehran takes all three points at home to Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan. If so, 2003 champion Al Ain of UAE will also qualify for the last 16 by winning at the Saudi Arabian home of Al Shabab.