Last-eight berths are on the line in this week’s Round of 16 return legs, but it is a quartet of Asian champions spearheaded by holders Guangzhou Evergrande that lead the way courtesy of their respective opening wins. Marcello Lippi's side look on course to seal their third successive quarter-final place after winning 5-1 at Cerezo Osaka while Pohang Steelers, Al Ittihad and Al Ain all boast a one-goal advantage heading into the returns against their domestic rivals.
Western Sydney Wanderers-Sanfrecce Hiroshima
History will be made on Wednesday regardless of the result between hosts Western Sydney Wanderers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, with a maiden last-eight place beckoning for either side. Having failed to progress beyond the group phase in their previous two appearances, the Japanese visitors are keen to continue their impressive run this year. As the only remaining A-League flag-bearer the home side will spare nothing to reverse the 3-1 first leg defeat.
With away goals taken into account during the knockout phase, it means a 2-0 home win is enough for Tony Popovic's side to progress. While the hosts are planning all-out attack to turn the table against their rivals, the goal-scoring task remains on the shoulders of Tomi Juric who scored the crucial away goal in Hiroshima. Wanderers’ crowd favourite Shinji Ono will aim to put in an inspiring performance in his last-ever match for the club. However, on the debit side, centre-back Nikolai Topor-Stanley is likely to be missing with a knee injury.
Boosted by their recent wins against A-League sides, including a 1-0 defeat against Central Coast Mariners which sealed their progression to the Round of 16, Hajime Moriyasu's Hiroshima are brimming with confidence heading into the return. The Japanese champions were held to a 1-1 home draw by Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday as they slipped to fifth in the local table. While they are not lacking in faith, fitness will be a concern with four fixtures across eleven days.
The other attractions
Al Ain will look to their strong home form this year as the inaugural winners seek to defend a 2-1 first leg advantage against compatriots Al Jazira. The 11-time United Arab Emirates champions, under Zlatko Dalic have won two and drawn one on home soil in winning a group also featuring Al Ittihad. Despite the one-goal cushion and home support, Dalic warned his side against any complacency. "The job is not done yet," he said. "We should play with a cautious approach."
The same can be said of Al Ittihad, who will be hoping to capitalise on their 1-0 opening triumph to run out aggregate winners at Al Shabab. With five goals from this campaign, including netting the match-winner against the domestic rivals, striking-ace Mukhtar Fallatah's goal-scoring form is key for the two-time winners.
Despite returning with a goalless draw at Al Sadd, Foolad coach Hossein Faraki sounded optimistic of sealing progression with a home win. "The result is positive for us," he said. "Our confidence for a quarter-final place is much enhanced." The Iranian hosts can take heart from their 3-1 home defeat of Qatar’s El Jaish during the group phase, with top-striker Chimba sealing the win with a stoppage-time strike.
Al Hilal can count on both home support and a 1-0 first leg lead against Bunyodkor. With striking-ace Nasser Al Shamrani on top form, the Saudi hosts are favourites to claim the tie. However, they will be vigilant of the Uzbek visitors' immense experience, which have taken them through to the knockout stage in each of their seven appearances.
In the East Zone, Pohang Steelers entertain Jeonbuk Motors need just a draw to advance. The 2009 winners maintained their unstoppable form in the weekend's K League competition with a 3-1 home win against Chunnam Dragons cementing their place at the summit of the local table. Despite playing out a 1-1 draw against Incheon United, Jeonbuk maintained pressure on the leaders in second place and will be hoping to upstage Pohang with an emphatic victory in the Champions League.
Despite languishing at second from bottom in the domestic league, FC Seoul can look to their contrasting Asian form which saw them win 3-2 at Kawasaki Frontale. The Japanese visitors did, however, show that they are more than capable of springing a surprise, having routed J-League heavyweights Kashima Antlers 4-1.
Finally, neither Guangzhou Evergrande nor Cerezo Osaka enter their re-match in good form, having emerged 1-0 losers to Guangzhou R&F and Vegalta Sendai on the domestic front respectively. Though, Lippi's hosts are strongly favoured on the Asian stage thanks to a stunning 5-1 first leg win.
Player to watch
Asamoah Gyan has been on target eight times so far in this campaign as Al Ain maintained their course for a second Asian title. While the club's faithful are hoping the Ghanaian forward continues his stand-out form in the return against Al Jazira, fans from across the continent will be watching eagerly to see if the free-scoring marksman can keep up his performance and get close to last year's scoring-record of 13 goals set by Guangzhou's Muriqui.
3 – The west Asian trio of Al Ain, Al Ittihad and Al Sadd are all playing in their ninth Champions League, while the tournament marks the third Asian appearance for the likes of Guangzhou Evergrande and Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
What they said
"We have to keep in mind that we only won half of the game so far. We must win another half in Pohang." Pohang Steelers coach Hwang Sunhong.
13 & 14 May
Al Shabab - Al Ittihad
Al Ain - Al Jazira
Foolad - Al Sadd
Al Hilal - Bunyodkor
Pohang Steelers - Jeonbuk Motors
Guangzhou Evergrande - Cerezo Osaka
FC Seoul - Kawasaki Frontale
Western Sydney Wanderers - Sanfrecce Hiroshima