With the AFC Champions League 2019 set to kick-off, a total of 32 hopeful teams battle throughout the year in their desire to be crowned as the best club in Asia.
Defending champions Kashima Antlers are looking to successfully defend their crown but the 38th edition of the competition is stacked with talent and there are a number of deserving teams that could be crowned as champion later on in the campaign.
With that said, we take a look at the five biggest contenders for the AFC Champions League crown.
AL-DUHAIL SC (QATAR)
A perennial contender, Al-Duhail SC were impressive last season as they equalled the tournament record of nine consecutive wins.
Qatar Stars League champions, they are not to be taken lightly and now they they’re entering their ninth AFC Champions League appearance they are hoping to make it past the quarterfinals for the first time in their history.
A second Qatari team making it to the list are Al-Sadd who were Qatar Stars League runners-up last year.
Entering their 15th AFC Champions League campaign, the two-time winners are hoping to end their drought as they last won the title back in 2011.
Last year, they reached the semifinal where they battled Persepolis but ended losing 1-2 on aggregate. Look for Al-Sadd to battle back this year.
JEONBUK HYUNDAI MOTORS (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Another team constantly part of the conversation for contenders are the Korea Republic squad Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
They made it to the competition by winning the 2018 K League 1 and are now in their 13th appearance in the AFC Champions League.
A team with so much experience, Jeonbuk have won the title twice, in 2006 and 2016 and finished as runners-up in 2011. They make a return from their absence regarding a match-fixing scandal and are definitely going to try and re-establish their dominance.
SHANGHAI SIPG (PR CHINA)
The 2018 Chinese Super League champions, many predicted Shanghai SIPG would take the AFC Champions League in 2018 before their shock exit.
In only their fourth appearance in the competition at the time, they topped their group before they were eliminated by eventual champions Kashima Antlers.
Now that they’re coming back, they are definitely hoping to bounce back from the early exit last year and make a deep run this time.
KASHIMA ANTLERS (JAPAN)
Last but certainly not the least are the defending champions. They made an incredible run in the AFC Champions League last year where they beat out teams like Shanghai SIPG, Tianjin Quanjian, Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Persepolis in the final to secure their first-ever title.
Despite being champions, Kashima had to go through a qualifying playoff and missing the services of Gen Shoji who left for Toulouse is definitely a big hit. However, the core of the team is still intact so that counts for championship experience that shouldn’t be disregarded a well.
Photo courtesy of AFC Champions League