Andrés Iniesta won the UEFA Champions League four times with Barcelona and now the 36-year-old Spaniard is winding back the clock with Vissel Kobe of Japan in the Asian equivalent.
Kobe, making its first appearance in the AFC Champions League, faces Shanghai SIPG on Monday with a place in the last eight at stake.
“We are happy with how the group stage went,” Iniesta said. “We have to stay focused, however, and make sure that we are at our best in the knockout stage.”
The 2010 World Cup winner recorded a goal and an assist in Kobe’s 3-1 victory over Guangzhou Evergrande of China on Nov. 25 to secure a spot in the round of 16. Kobe lost 2-0 to Suwon Bluewings in the final group game on Friday.
Shanghai paid over $130 million in 2016 for Brazilian stars Oscar and Hulk who will line up against Iniesta on Monday.
The winner of the eastern half — the competition was split into geographic zones — will play Persepolis of Iran on Dec. 19. The tournament is being staged in Qatar because of coronavirus restrictions on travel.
Yokohama F. Marinos and FC Tokyo also advanced to ensure that all three Japanese teams made it to the round of 16.
Teams from China, South Korea and Australia have had mixed fortunes.
Melbourne Victory defeated FC Seoul 2-1 on Thursday to become the only A-League club in the last 16.
“We are very proud of the players' effort,” Melbourne assistant coach Steve Kean said. “We have been sitting here after games saying we are achieving small steps towards getting match fitness. The effort and determination of the players to stay in the game is brilliant.”
Perth Glory, making its first appearance in the tournament, and Sydney FC were both eliminated. Sydney has won three of the past four Australian titles but has only reached the knockout stage in Asia once in six attempts.
Melbourne meets 2012 champion Ulsan Horang-i on Sunday. Ulsan and Suwon are the Korean teams that advanced while FC Seoul and Jeonbuk Motors head home. Suwon faces Yokohama on Monday.
Beijing Guoan went through the group stage undefeated and will take on FC Tokyo, while Shanghai Shenhua was eliminated as was two-time Asian champion Guangzhou.