This year’s AFC Champions League reaches the midway mark on Tuesday and Wednesday with a series of traditional powerhouses facing must-win games if they are to keep their qualifying hopes alive. Former champions Gamba Osaka and Jeonbuk Motors are still in a desperate hunt for their opening point, with Bunyodkor and Buriram United providing the latest opportunity, while the likes of Pakhtakor and Al Hilal hope to revive their fortunes with a first win. Please join FIFA.com as we preview this week’s showdowns across the continent.
Pohang Steelers-Adelaide United
If their dominant head-to-head record is anything to go by, it seems that Group E’s Adelaide United are set to upstage Pohang Steelers at the Steelyard. Coach John Kosmina's visitors hold the historic edge over their Korean hosts, having won three and drawn one in their four previous meetings. The A-League side prevailed both home and away (2-0, 1-0) over the K-League giants in their continental debut in 2008, during which they went on to finish tournament runners-up. The two sides met again in the 2010 edition where Pohang were considered favourites as defending champions. However, Adelaide finished top of their pool leading Pohang on goal difference courtesy of their superior head-to-head results (0-0, 1-0).
Adelaide enter this latest bout high on the wave of back-to-back wins, while finishing the domestic season with a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart. Hwang Sun-Hong's Pohang, for their part, have recently rediscovered their winning form, edging Sangju Sangmu 2-1 before dispatching Chunnam Dragons 1-0 in K-League competition. The Reds will look to the scoring form of striker Bruce Djite, who was on target in their 2-0 defeat of Pohang four years ago. The Steelers, meanwhile, can count on their Ghanaian forward Derek Asamoah and the on-song Cho Chan-Ho. In the pool's other game, pointless Gamba Osaka, under new manager Masanobu Matsunami, entertain Bunyodkor as they desperately seek an opening win.
The other attractions
Group A pace-setters Al Jazira travel to Esteghlal hoping to continue their recent winning form, but they must shrug off this weekend’s disappointing 3-2 loss to Emirates which saw them concede second place to Al Shabab in the United Arab Emirates league. The Iranian hosts, meanwhile, can take heart from their recent 1-0 defeat of Malavan. The section all sees Uzbek Nasaf against strugglers Al Rayyan.
There is a top-of-the-standings showdown in Group B with leaders Al Ittihad entertaining Bani Yas. The hosts enter the encounter following a 1-0 defeat of Al Ahli while the visitors must put their 3-0 loss at Al Ain behind them. Bottom side Al Arabi, meanwhile, challenge seasoned campaigners Pakhtakor seeking their opening point.
Having retained the Qatar Stars League title with two games to spare after a 1-1 draw at Al Arabi on Wednesday, Group C joint runners-up Lekhwiya travel to Sepahan determined to topple the leaders. However, they must remain wary of the Iranian hosts who edged out Rah Ahan 3-2 in their recent domestic outing to maintain their pole position in the Iranian league. Struggling Al Ahli, meanwhile, face an uphill task at Al Nasr who recorded a spirited 3-2 triumph over Sharjah in the recent home fixture with their in-form Ivorian forward Amara Diane completing a brace.
Boosted by their previous 6-1 demolition of Al Shabab, Persepolis are expecting to strengthen their grip on Group D with a second consecutive win at Al Gharafa, who suffered a 4-1 blow against Al Jaish in their latest domestic fixture. Second-placed Al Hilal meanwhile travel to Al Shabab with a 5-0 drubbing of Al Fath fresh in the memory. The UAE hosts, however, will no doubt be drawing inspiration from last week’s 2-0 victory over Diego Maradona's Al Wasl.
A 2-0 win over fellow AFC Champions League participants Central Coast Mariners in A-League's major semi-final first leg was exactly what Brisbane Roar needed heading into the away match against Ulsan Hyundai. A win against the Group E runners-up will put the Australians' campaign back on track, as they currently prop up the standings, but a defeat is likely to see their hopes hanging by a thread. The same can be said of Beijing Guoan, who received a 3-1 morale-boosting win over Tianjin Teda ahead of the home game against leaders FC Tokyo, fresh off the back of their first defeat of the season, losing 1-0 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday.
Level on two points each, all four teams in Group G enter the matchday knowing a win can move them into pole position. However, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma welcome Central Coast Mariners with both sides desperate to push aside their recent domestic losses. Nagoya Grampus were the only side from the quartet to salvage a point in their latest game, holding Omiya Ardija to a 1-1 draw, ahead of their away match in Tianjin.
With their back-to-back 5-1 defeats putting their campaign in jeopardy, pre-tournament favourites Jeonbuk Motors from Group H are all too aware they face a must-win game at leaders Buriram United if they are to salvage a lifeline. However, the K-League champions lost 3-2 to Daegu FC on Saturday while the Thai hosts fired three unanswered goals past Osotspa M-150 for their third opening win. The section's other match sees Kashiwa Reysol and Guangzhou Evergrande do battle in a debutants' derby, with the Chinese visitors in winning form having downed Shanghai Shenhua 1-0 on Friday.
Player to watch
Buriram's Ghanaian striker Frank Acheampong dazzled the fans and media alike with his pace and attacking flair as his unfancied side stunned Kashiwa and Guangzhou in the opening two matchdays. His exploding surges forward and goal-scoring form will no doubt cause headaches for latest visitors Jeonbuk Motors.
4 - Only a quartet of the 32 contenders have maintained an unblemished record so far, with Al Ittihad, Adelaide United, Al Jazira and Buriram United all topping their respective sections with two opening wins.
What they said
"As players, the AFC Champions League games are what you want to be playing in. And I think that after a disappointing result against Brisbane the best thing to do is to get out on the pitch and forget about this and you’ve got a whole new game to think about," Central Coast Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson
AFC Champions League Matchday 3 fixtures
Group A: Esteghlal-Al Jazira, Al Rayyan-Nasaf
Group B: Pakhtakor-Al Arabi, Al Ittihad-Bani Yas
Group C: Al Nasr-Al Ahli, Sepahan-Lekhwiya
Group D: Al Gharafa-Persepolis, Al Shabab-Al Hilal
Group E: Gamba Osaka-Bunyodkor, Pohang Steelers-Adelaide United
Group F: Ulsan Hyundai-Brisbane Roar, Beijing Guoan-FC Tokyo
Group G: Seongnam Ilhwa-Central Coast Mariners, Tianjin Teda-Nagoya Grampus
Group H: Kashiwa Reysol-Guangzhou Evergrande, Buriram United-Jeonbuk Motors