The 2012 AFC Champions League recommences on Wednesday after a hiatus of more than three months, with the last eight sides battling against each other in their quarter-final first legs.
One two-time winner, a pair of former runners-up, four seasoned campaigners and a tournament debutant all combine to make a mouth-watering line-up which promises a series of enthralling meetings.
Notably, Al Ittihad welcome newcomers Guangzhou Evergrande, seeking not only an opening victory but also a third Asian title, while compatriots Al Hilal and Al Ahli face uphill tasks at Ulsan Hyundai and Sepahan respectively.
Adelaide United, meanwhile, resume their recent rivalry with Bunyodkor aiming to prolong their proud home record. Join FIFA.com as we preview these enticing match-ups in detail.
Revenge is on Bunyodkor coach Mirjalol Qosimov's mind as his side travel to Adelaide for their fifth Champions League meeting. The two teams first met in the semi-finals of the 2008 edition, during which the Australian side progressed 3-1 on aggregate, largely courtesy of their 3-0 first-leg win at home.
They crossed paths again in the group stage this year and once more it was Adelaide that looked the better side with a 2-1 win and a goalless draw. "After all these, it is our turn to win," Qosimov told FIFA.com. "We hope to repeat our last-four finish in 2008 by knocking Adelaide out."
Things have, however, changed greatly since then. Having lost 17 players in recent years, Qosimov has to count on youthful talents, including creator Shavkat Salomov and striking duo Bahodir Pardaev and Kamoliddin Murzoev, who scored a late consolation in their group loss against Adelaide.
Despite arriving in Australia after a 2-1 domestic loss to Olmaliq, the coach is adamant they can turn the corner against Adelaide. "Discipline beats class," he went on. "We can counter the rivals with our teamwork and organisation."
Hosts Adelaide, though, enter the rematch seeking to emulate their fairytale run four years ago. Although they finished second-from-bottom in the last A-League season, the Reds showed improved form on the continent, progressing as group winners before edging past Nagoya Grampus 1-0 in the Round of 16.
In order to enhance their cutting edge for the knockout stage, they signed a series of foreign imports in the build-up. However, new Argentinian acquisition Marcelo Carrusca is ruled out through injury and Portuguese striker Fabio Ferreira is likely to miss his Asian debut as coach John Kosmina has hinted at giving him more time for acclimatisation.
"It’s going to be another tough two games," said captain and custodian Eugene Galekovic, who has kept five clean sheets in the AFC Champions League this season. "They know the way we play so they’re going to be alot better than when we faced them in the group stage."
The other attractions
Another rematch pits 2007 finalists Sepahan against Saudi league runners-up Al Ahli. The two sides progressed from their group jointly but it was the Iranian champions that finished as section winners, edging Al Ahli by three points courtesy of their 2-1 home win.
Despite winning their third consecutive domestic title and reaching the Asian quarter-finals with a 2-0 win over Esteghlal, Sepahan underwent a turbulent pre-season with seven regulars leaving for pastures new.
Armed with the new signings of Iran striker Mohammad Reza Khalatbari and Montenegro international Radomir Dalovic, though, they have proved they are still a promising side with a series of good results on the home front. Al Ahli must look to the goalscoring form of Victor Simoes, who was on target as they defeated Al Wahda 2-1 recently.
Debutants challenge two-time champions as Guangzhou Evergrande enter the unknown against Al Ittihad. Bossing the attacking from midfield for both rivals, however, are a pair of former Fluminense stars in Dario Conca and Diego Souza.
The former scored five times as Guangzhou became the first Chinese side to reach the knockout stage since Shanghai Shenhua in 2006. The latter, who joined the Saudi side in July, provided assists for all of their three goals as they crushed Al Ittifaq recently.
Boasting an 8-3 aggregate win against Chinese outfit Shandong Luneng at the same stage in 2005 before they proceeded to defend their continental title, Al Ittihad hold a clear mental edge. But the Chinese, under coach Marcello Lippi and with striking reinforcement in Lucas Barrios, have fixed their sights on nothing less than a victory.
Elsewhere, Ulsan Hyundai entertain Al Hilal aiming to extend Korea Republic's proud record on the Asian stage, with compatriots Jeonbuk Motors, Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma all having lifted the trophy in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
The only K-League side that survived the Round of 16, with a 3-2 defeat of Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol, Ulsan enter the game following a 2-1 victory at Gyeongnam FC which saw them climb to fourth in the domestic table. Al Hilal, meanwhile, can also boast a morale-booster after a 3-1 win against Al Shoala.
The visitors, under new coach Antoine Kombouare, must make do without defender Sultan Al Bishi due to suspension. However, they can count on the prolific form of marksman Yoo Byungsoo, who was on target four times as they thrashed Bani Yas 7-1 in their previous fixture.
Player to watch
Having inspired Guangzhou through with his goals and assists, last season's C-League Golden Boot winner Muriqui goes into the Al Ittihad match seeking to end his recent league goal drought.
4 - Half of the quarter-finalists, namely Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Ulsan Hyundai are enjoying prolific form after winning their recent home fixtures.
What they said
"Guangzhou have shown what they are capable of and they become favourites despite the status as debutants. But please remember we are also a strong team. We will strive not only to win the first leg but score as many goals as possible to make life easier for us in the return game," Al Ittihad coach Raul Caneda
Quarter-final, first leg
Al Ittihad-Guangzhou Evergrande
Ulsan Hyundai-Al Hilal