This week will see the four AFC Champions League semi-finalists determined with each tie delicately poised after the opening legs. Tuesday’s action in the west has Al Ittihad perhaps facing the toughest challenge among the quartet, as they seek to overturn a 2-0 deficit against visiting United Arab Emirates side Al Ain. Qatar’s Al Sadd find themselves with a similar challenge after losing 1-0 in Saudi Arabia last week against Al Hilal. In the east on Wednesday, much focus will be on holders Guangzhou Evergrande who are 1-0 down to Western Sydney Wanderers after last week’s first leg in Australia, while the all-Korean derby has FC Seoul entertaining Pohang Steelers after an opening scoreless draw. FIFA.com previews all the action.
Guangzhou Evergrande - Western Sydney Wanderers
Unusually the free-scoring holders are on the back foot at the halfway point of the contest. Last week’s opening tie leave the Wanderers in the ascendancy, while an away goal would tip the balance further towards the A-League side. The Chinese powerhouse are also set to be without Zhang Linpeng, Gao Lin and Korea Republic international defender Kim Younggwon due to suspension. The former pair were sent off in the dying minutes amid a tempestuous conclusion to the first leg, with coach Marcello Lippi also receiving a provisional one-match sideline ban. Nevertheless Wanderers coach Tony Popovic admits Guangzhou have more than enough firepower to wreck havoc in attack, no doubt with the likes of Alberto Gilardino, Elkeson and Alessandro Diamanti in mind. The Wanderers, however, have a habit of rising to the occasion as evidenced by last week’s win over the three-time Chinese kings, which came just a week after being bundled out of the FFA Cup by second-tier opposition.
The other attractions
The winner will face either last year's runners-up, FC Seoul, or 2009 champions Pohang Steelers in the semi-finals. Wednesday’s return at the Seoul World Cup Stadium pits together two teams with very different recent form. Pohang, though second on the domestic front, have failed to find the net in the past three league and cup outings. The capital club, meanwhile, though struggling in midtable, have suddenly found some form and on the weekend dispensed with K-League leaders Jeonbuk Motors.
In the west, Qatari flagbearers Al Sadd are aiming for just a second semi-final appearance in 12 years when they host Saudi giants Al Hilal. The last time Sadd won through to the last four was in 2011 and on that occasion they went all the way to win an unexpected continental crown. Their Moroccan coach Lhoussaine Ammouta will be feeling optimistic after his side returned from Saudi Arabia with just a 1-0 deficit, a scoreline which contrasts markedly with a 5-0 defeat against the same opponent on their last visit to Riyadh.
Al Ittihad coach Khalid Al Koroni enjoyed a 2-1 group stage victory at home over Al Ain in his first AFC Champions League game in charge, but he will now need to better that scoreline in order to achieve the Saudi powerhouse’s sixth semi-final appearance. Without an away goal the odds are very much stacked against Ittihad despite home advantage. Al Ain, maiden winners of the competition, are eying a last-four berth for the first time in nine years.
Player to watch
Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman has been a pivotal part of the club’s success with the United Arab Emirates international providing the ammunition for prolific forward Asamoah Gyan.
6 – Six former AFC Champions League winners line-up this week with Al Hilal having won the previous version of the elite Asian club competition, leaving the 2012-founded Western Sydney Wanderers the odd one out.
“Al Ittihad are a good side but we know their style and we managed to stop their threat (in the first leg),” Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic
Quarter-finals, first leg
Al Ittihad (KSA)-Al Ain (UAE) (First leg 0-2)
Al Sadd (QAT)-Al Hilal (KSA) (0-1)
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN)-Western Sydney Wanderers (AUS) (0-1)
FC Seoul (KOR)-Pohang Steelers (KOR) (0-0)