Back-to-back encounters take centre stage across Asia as the 2014 AFC Champions League reaches the halfway point. Tuesday and Wednesday's Matchday 3 offers five top-versus-bottom clashes, with the likes of Al Jazira, El Jaish, Al Sadd, FC Seoul and Ulsan Hyundai aiming to consolidate their grip on their respective groups with victories.
There are, meanwhile, two top-of-the-standing meetings which pit giants from China and Korea Republic. Notably, defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande entertain Jeonbuk Motors in their fifth continental match-up while Shandong Luneng visit Pohang Steelers to challenge the 2009 winners. FIFA.com previews the details behind these showdowns.
Guangzhou Evergrande-Jeonbuk Motors
Since stunning Jeonbuk 5-1 away in their continental debut two years ago, Group G's Guangzhou have maintained their mental edge against the 2006 champions. Although Jeonbuk gained revenge with a 3-1 second-leg victory that same year, it was the Chinese that progressed alongside Kashiwa Reysol at the Koreans' expense. The honours were split last year and both sides progresed from their group despite sharing spoils in two legs.
Both teams have begun this season brightly on both the Asian and home fronts. With four points from two matches each, they are joint leaders of the section. Their domestic form has proved even more impressive, which has seen them stay perfect in their respective leagues.
With last year's most valued player Muriqui out of form, the hosts' hopes lie on new signing Alessandro Diamanti, who is currently topping the tournament scoring-chart with three goals. The visitors can count on scoring-veteran Lee Donggook although defender Lee Kyuro will be missing due to suspension. Elsewhere, Melbourne Victory welcome Yokohama F. Marinos with both sides seeking to revitalise their hopes with a first win.
The other attractions
Pointless Esteghalal from Group A face a must-win against leaders Al Jazira at home. While Amir Ghalenoei's home side look determined to revive their fortunes with an opening win, Walter Zenga's visitors are hopeful of maintaining their impressive form having gone four-match undefeated on both home and Asian front. Al Shabab, meanwhile, must put their surprising 3-1 defeat to Al Jazira behind them against Al Rayyan.
The form of Group B joint leaders Foolad will be tested by Bunyodkor, who received a timely boost after defeating Qyzylqum Zarafshon by 2-1 in the curtain-raiser of the Uzbek league. In the group’s other match, El Jaish look to the goal-scoring form of top-scorer Mohammed Mathnani and Nilmar as they aim to strengthen the lead with a second win in a row at Al Fateh.
While Group C's Al Ittihad are eyeing a second win at Lekhwiya, they should keep wary of the Qatari hosts' recent form that saw them dispatch Al Ahli by 3-1 to establish a seven-point cushion at the summit of the local standings. Tractor Sazi, meanwhile, pin their hopes on Iranian international Karim Ansarifard to overcome hosts Al Ain.
In-form Al Sadd from Group D entertain Al Hilal hoping to extend their lead with a home win but it is the visitors that enter the re-match with a sort of mental edge having inflicted a 3-0 defeat on the Qataris in 2010. Boosted by their 3-2 victory against Al Hilal, Sepahan have fixed sights on reviving their fortunes by downing Al Ahli at home.
Group E’s Pohang and Shandong are seeking to build their lead with victories. But the K League hosts' form were checked after suffering a 3-1 loss at Busan I'Park while Shandong travel to Korea Republic fresh after seeing their domestic clash with Jiangsu Sainty postponed to Wednesday. Boosted by their 4-1 defeat of Shimizu S-Pulse in the J League, bottom side Cerezo Osaka have high hopes of rekindling their hopes with an opening win against Buriram United.
Group F’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima are clear they must win against FC Seoul if they are to salvage their diminishing hopes ,but the J League champions enter the match in lacklustre form after losing to Urawa Red by 2-0. Winless Beijing Guo are, meanwhile, dealt with a dilemma. While offense will on the Chinese’s minds as they aim to grab much-needed points against Central Coast Mariners, their depleted backline is a cause for concern with both goalkeeper Yang Zhi and defender Zhou Ting suspended.
Group H's runaway leader Ulsan Hyundai take on bottom Guizhou Renhe expecting to bolster their pole position with a third successive win. The 2012 winners recently thrashed Gyeongnam FC 3-0, a result which has seen them stay perfect in both home and Asian competitions. Guizhou, though, saw their form improved by defeating Tianjin Teda 2-0 on Saturday. The other game pits Western Sydney Wanderers against visiting Kawasaki Frontale, who target a second win despite being edged 4-3 at Omiya Ardija.
Player to watch
Alessandro Diamanti has quickly established his place as Guangzhou's new talisman. Having scored a superb equaliser at Yokohama F. Marinos last week, the Italy midfielder came off bench in the 58th-minute to steer his side to a 4-1 home win over Harbin Yiteng lately.
3- Matchday 3 highlights marquee match-ups between nearby nations. Notably, three pairs of rivals from Iran and United Arab Emirates do battle while Saudi Arabia and Qatar are pitted in another three encounters. In the far east, neighbouring China and Korea Republic also see three of their participants locked in the crucial back-to-back meetings.
What they said
"Jeonbuk have perhaps developed a sort of phobia against us after losing 5-1 in the first meeting, because they had focused much on defence last year. For a pair of familiar opponents like us, the result will largely down to the performances by each side," Guangzhou Evergrande forward Gao Lin.
Matchday 3 fixtures
18 & 19 March
Group A: Esteghlal-Al Jazira, Al Shabab-Al Rayyan
Group B: Bunyodkor-Foolad, Al Fateh-El Jaish
Group C: Lekhwiya-Al Ittihad, Al Ain-Tractor Sazi
Group D: Sepahan-Al Ahli, Al Sadd-Al Hilal
Group E: Cerezo Osaka-Buriram United, Pohang Steelers-Shandong Luneng
Group F: Sanfrecce Hiroshima-FC Seoul, Beijing Guoan-Central Coast Mariners
Group G: Melbourne Victory-Yokohama F. Marinos, Guangzhou Evergrande-Jeonbuk Hyundai
Group H: Western Sydney Wanderers-Kawasaki Frontale, Ulsan Hyundai-Guizhou Renhe