Why are Jeonbuk, Urawa and Vissel already through to the AFC Champions League last-16 if they haven't won their groups?

South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors became the third team in the AFC Champions League 2022 East Zone through to the Round of 16 on Thursday night, joining Japanese duo Urawa Red Diamonds and Vissel Kobe. Minh Hoang/Getty Images

South Korean outfit Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have joined Japanese duo Urawa Red Diamonds and Vissel Kobe as the first teams through to the East Zone Round of 16 of AFC Champions League 2022, after a thrilling 3-2 win over Sydney FC on Thursday.

But given none of the rankings in the East Zone have been decided ahead of the final round of matches this weekend, just why are Jeonbuk, Urawa and Vissel guaranteed of their progress even though only the five group winners and three best runners-up march on -- and there is a chance they could finish second?

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An already complex game of probability has been further complicated by Group J only featuring three teams due to the withdrawal of Shanghai Port, which means the ranking of the second-placed teams will omit games played against the bottom team in each group.

Regardless of what happens in the final round of matches, the worst-case scenario for the trio is finishing second in their respective groups with seven points from the games involving the top three teams.

This will be enough because no team in Groups G and I that finishes in second place can hit that seven-point mark, which leads to the unique situation where the three teams are guaranteed their last-16 berths already despite having not won their groups.

It is truly a peculiar situation given teams like Urawa and Jeonbuk are currently second behind their respective group leaders Daegu and Yokohama F. Marinos but have secured their progress ahead of the leaders.

To provide clarity, we break down all five groups here involving the teams still in the running for a top-two finish.


1st -- Daegu: Will only guarantee progress with a win against Lion City Sailors. If they draw, they must rely on an unlikely Urawa defeat to Shandong Taishan to still finish top. If they finish second, they will only have five points in the runners-up rankings. Lose and they're out.

2nd -- Urawa Red Diamonds: Already through but will finish top if they beat Shandong and Daegu do not win. Even if they lose and Daegu are also beaten, which will result in a three-way tie on ten points, they will still boast the biggest haul of seven points from the games involving the trio, with the Sailors second on six and Daegu with only four.

3rd -- Lion City Sailors: Must win against Daegu to give themselves any chance although a six-point haul in the runners-up table is slightly precarious.


1st -- BG Pathum United: BG Pathum United will finish top as long as they beat Jeonnam Dragons. They can drop to second is if they lose and Melbourne City beat United City, or if they draw and the Australian outfit either claim a better goal difference or, if this is level too, end up with more goals scored if . That is a situation they will want to avoid as they will only have five points in the runners-up rankings.

2nd -- Melbourne City: Must win and hope BGPU lose to finish top. In the event of BGPU being held by Jeonnam, Melbourne City can finish level on points with the Thai side but must overcome an inferior goal difference of five at present. Their final tally in the runners-up table is six points as they are up against bottom side United City on Saturday.

3rd -- Jeonnam Dragons: Eliminated. Although still in with a chance to finish second in the group if they beat BGPU and Melbourne City fall to a shock loss, there is no chance their four-point haul will have them as one of the three best-performing runners-up.


1st -- Yokohama F. Marinos: Rather straightforward given Marinos and Jeonbuk face off against one another on Sunday. A win or a draw will be enough to seal qualification as Group H winners. If they fall to second, they will have six points regardless of whether it is Sydney FC or Hoang Anh Gia Lai that factor in as the third-placed team.

2nd -- Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors: Already through, given they will have seven points in the runners-up rankings regardless the outcome of the basement battle between Sydney and HAGL. Will only finish top if they win.


1st -- Johor Darul Ta'zim: Johor Darul Ta'zim beat Ulsan Hyundai. Leading the way in the most complicated group, JDT will advance as long as they are victorious. If they lose, they can still finish second but -- like Jeonnam Dragons -- a four-point haul in the second-placed team rankings will not be enough.

2nd -- Ulsan Hyundai: Like JDT, given they are tied on points ahead of Saturday's duel, will advance as Group I winners as long as they win. Also similarly to JDT, they could lose and still finish second but that four-point haul will see them eliminated.

3rd -- Kawasaki Frontale: The only way Kawasaki Frontale can finish top is by winning against Guangzhou and hoping JDT and Ulsan draw. This will leave all teams level on 11 points and will draw on the next tie-breaker of goal difference in games between the three. But given a stalemate between Ulsan and JDT will leave them remaining on 0 and -4 respectively, Frontale will progress as they currently have a GD of +4.


1st -- Vissel Kobe: Like Urawa and Jeonbuk, Vissel are already through. The only way they can drop to second is if they lose to Kitchee by a two-goal margin.

2nd -- Kitchee: In a decent position with six points to their names but still slightly risky in the event Urawa and Jeonbuk finish second in their groups with a superior seven-point haul. A draw would be enough to take them through.