Who are the likely contenders from the East in AFC Champions League 2022?

Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Red Diamonds are two of the four Japanese teams looking to make their mark in AFC Champions League 2022. Kaz Photography/Getty Images

In the past decade of the AFC Champions League, the East Zone of the competition has largely dominated proceedings -- producing eight of the last ten champions with only current champions Al Hilal able to stop their reign.

The eastern half of the ACL 2022 group stage gets underway on Friday and, as always, there will be no shortage of likely contenders in this side of the draw.

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Lion City Sailors

If there is one team that has made huge strides in recent years and have set their sights even higher, it is the reigning Singapore Premier League champions Lion City Sailors.

LCS not only have a man who won the tournament as recently as 2020 at the helm in ex-Ulsan Hyundai tactician Kim Do-hoon, but also boast one of the ACL's most-prolific strikers of all time in Kim Shin-wook.

Throw in a host of Singapore internationals such as Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman and Hassan Sunny, as well as illustrious imports in Diego Lopes and Maxime Lestienne, and the Sailors appear to have a capable squad .

In Group F they will be up against seasoned campaigners Shandong Taishan (China), Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan) and Daegu FC (South Korea) -- but the draw could definitely have dealt the Sailors a much tougher hand.

BG Pathum United

Thailand's BG Pathum United is another Southeast Asian contender. They were in the same position as the Sailors last year and did well to qualify for the Round of 16 before an agonising shootout loss to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

The Rabbits return to Asia's premier club competition in 2022 with added experience but arguably a stronger squad too. They still boast key players like Diogo and Sarach Yooyen and are reinforced with fresh faces like Ikhsan Fandi, who only recently remarkably scored four goals in just 19 minutes in a 7-2 Thai League 1 win over PT Prachuap.

Just like in 2021, BGPU have been handed a fairly favourable route to the knockout round in Group G -- although Australia's Melbourne City and South Korean second-tier outfit Jeonnam Dragons could offer resistance.

The other team in Group G are Philippines' United City.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

As two-time champions of the tournament, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are always expected to go far although they could have added impetus to do well on the continental stage this season.

Having won the K League 1 in the past five years, a slow start to the new campaign already sees them nine points off the pace in their domestic race -- which could leave them with the ACL as their best bet for silverware in 2022.

Nonetheless, Jeonbuk have rediscovered some form heading into their Group H campaign having won their past three outings, and should be confident of at least a top-two finish against Yokohama F. Marinos (Japan), Hoang Anh Gia Lai (Vietnam) and Sydney FC (Australia).

The fact that only the group winners are guaranteed a place in the Round of 16 could increase the pressure, especially given how prominent teams missed out on qualification last year having finished second in their groups but not making the cut as one of the best-performing runners-up.

Yokohama F. Marinos

If there is one team that looks the likeliest to rival Jeonbuk for top spot in Group H, it is Yokohama F. Marinos.

Returning to the ACL after missing out in 2021, Marinos do look a far different side compared to even just a year ago -- having seen a host of key names such as Daizen Maeda, Jun Amano, Ado Onaiwu and Theerathon Bunmathan move on in recent times.

But in their Brazilian contingent, with Anderson Lopes and Eduardo the latest to join Marcos Junior, Leo Ceara and Elber, Marinos have plenty of flair at their disposal to complement the guile and industry brought about by the likes of Teruhito Nakagawa, Kota Mizunuma and Shinnosuke Hatanaka.

Considering Japanese football does have a rich history of success in the ACL, Marinos could be under pressure to deliver given they are yet to land the continent's biggest prize yet.

Kawasaki Frontale

Champions of Japan's J1 League in four of the past five years, Kawasaki Frontale have emerged as a real force but they will definitely be looking to make amends in 2022.

With plenty of hype surrounding them last season, Frontale bowed out to Ulsan Hyundai on penalties in the Round of 16 albeit against strong opposition after a tense 0-0 draw that could have gone either way.

Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao should be the man they will turn to for goals once more, although it will be interesting to see how Thailand captain Chanathip Songkrasin fares on his return to this stage -- having put in a series of eye-catching displays for former club Muangthong United back in 2017.

The one thing going against Frontale is the tricky draw they've been handed in Group I as they will have a reunion with Ulsan, as well as take on Johor Darul Ta'zim (Malaysia) and Guangzhou (China).

Ulsan Hyundai

The last team from the East to be crowned ACL champions, Ulsan Hyundai have made a positive to 2022 as they hold a five-point lead in K League 1 -- which they will be hoping is the foundation to ending a 17-year wait to win the domestic crown.

For now though, their focus will be switched to the continental stage, where they tasted success as recently as 2020 when they beat Persepolis of Iran in the final.

Plenty from that title-winning side will still be featuring for Ulsan, including midfield general Won Du-jae and tireless right-back Kim Tae-hwan, while foreign imports in Jun Amano, Valeri Qazaishvili and Leo Souza offered additional firepower up front.

Still, as is the case with fellow Group I outfit Frontale, Ulsan might have to avoid any slip-ups against JDT and Guangzhou to give themselves the best chance to qualify from what is promising to be some fairly tight proceedings.