A pair of mouth-watering showdowns loom large as this year's AFC Champions League reaches the semi-final stage next week. Kicking off the show are Saudi Arabian city rivals Al Ittihad and Al Ahli, who line up in the first leg on Monday at Jeddah for their 155th derby in history.
Two days later, Uzbek side Bunyodkor and Korea Republic representatives Ulsan Hyundai, both in their second last-four appearance, do battle in Tashkent with each seeking their maiden qualification for the continental final. FIFA.com previews the first-leg meetings.
Semi-finals, first leg fixtures
Al Ittihad - Al Ahli
Bunyodkor - Ulsan Hyundai
Al Ittihad - Al Ahli
Many eyes across Asia will be on Al Ittihad versus Al Ahli when they square off at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium - their shared home where the second leg will also be staged. Indeed, the Jeddah rivalry, which dates back to 1938, represents the most long-standing derby in Saudi Arabia, and definitely enjoys a place among Asia's classic encounters.
The second-most successful Saudi club behind Al Hilal with eight league titles, Al Ittihad are superior in the head-to-head record with 58 wins to 50, including putting seven unanswered goals past Al Ahli in the 1960 King's Cup, which remains to date the biggest scoreline between the two sides.
Last season saw Al Ahli win their first meeting 3-1, but Al Ittihad avenged that with a solitary-goal triumph in the return - a result which proved costly for Al Ahli as they were edged by Al Shabab by two points for the league title. Their opening meeting this season, originally scheduled for last month, was postponed due to their involvement in the Champions League.
Out for revenge, Karel Jarolim's Al Ahli have underperformed lately, with a 2-0 loss at Najran dropping them to seventh place in the domestic standings. That lack of form is not helped by their growing injury list, with both defender Kamel Al Mousa and midfielder Abdulraheem Jaizawi doubtful for the clash, while captain Mohammed Massad is struggling to recover in time.
Raul Caneda's Al Ittihad, for their part, must make do without experienced defender Redha Tukar through suspension. Adding to their difficulties, ace striker Naif Hazazi, the tournament's second-top scorer with seven goals so far, is nursing a knee injury.
The other attraction
With a first-ever place in the final on the line, both Bunyodkor and Ulsan Hyundai meet up at Tashkent aiming to make history. Despite the shared aim, however, they enter the opener with differing domestic form. The Uzbek hosts, under Mirjalol Qosimov, saw off Nawbahor Namangan 1-0 on Saturday to cut the gap on leaders Pakhtakor to two points. With three rounds to go, they still retain hopes of finishing the season with an unprecedented domestic and Asian double.
The visitors, meanwhile, lost first to Pohang Steelers then Jeonbuk Motors by the same 3-1 scoreline in the recent K-League championship play-off round. Having crashed out of the Korean FA Cup with a 3-0 semi-final loss to Gyeongnam FC and currently sitting outside the top three in the league table, last season's runners-up could possibly miss out on next year's Champions League.
To make sure they won't finish the season empty-handed, Kim Ho-Gon's Ulsan will do whatever they can to upstage the hosts. Shouldering the goalscoring task is Brazilian Rafinha, who was on target three times as they thumped Al Hilal 5-0 on aggregate. The home side, though, can count on captain Viktor Karpenko and international striker Anvarjon Soliev to provide them with an experienced edge.
Player to watch
Still acclimatising with Al Ittihad, Brazilian Diego Souza has begun to rediscover his normal goalscoring form. He equalised against Guangzhou Evergrande as his side earned a 4-2 comeback victory, before opening the scoring against Al Taawun in a 3-3 draw in a recent league fixture.
2 - Al Ittihad enter the semi-finals as the only Asian side to have won the Champions League twice, while both Ulsan and Bunyodkor play in their second last-four appearance.
What they said
"We have been looking forward to this match and we have prepared well for it. We are all aware how important it is for the team. I have fully recovered [from injury] so I am ready to take part in the game," Al Ahli's Omani forward Amad Al Hosni