Al Ittihad, Ulsan Horang-I and Shanghai Shenhua will all be defending first-leg advantages on Wednesday when they renew acquaintances with Al Karama, Al Shabab and Jeonbuk Motors respectively in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League.

Perfectly poised, meanwhile, is the tie between Al Ain and Al Qadisiya, who drew 2-2 in their first leg meeting and now line up at the former's Tahnon Bin Mohammed Stadium knowing that, with a place in the last four on offer, the stakes could hardly be higher.

As things stand, Al Ittihad - two-times AFC Champions League-winners and the current reigning champions - look well placed to progress, having registered a 2-0 victory over Syria's Al Karama on home soil last week. The Syrian champions will, however, offer considerably sterner opposition in their own backyard and, with injury having ruled out both AFC Player of the Year Hamad Al Montashari and newly-imported Mexican forward Jared Borgetti for the Saudis, it could make for an intriguing night. 

Al Karama certainly have every intention of making the favourites squirm in front of a noisy and partisan home support, and Al Ittihad coach Vahid Halilhodzic is evidently wary of the inspirational effect that home advantage will have on the Syrian outfit.

"They didn't play so well in the first leg but you can never underestimate the team who are going to play on the home soil," he warned. "We have to play to our full strength."

Al Ittihad certainly dominated the first leg in Riyadh last week, creating scores of chances and, but for their own profligacy in front of goal, they would surely be heading into this all-important return leg with the outcome already effectively decided. 

Another of the tournament favourites, Al Ain, will be similarly cautious ahead of the potentially tricky return leg against Al Qadisiya, who proved themselves more than capable of pulling off an upset during their triumphant group stage campaign.

The Kuwaiti champions certainly came close to stunning the inaugural winners in the first leg, playing bravely and thrilling the home fans who might have cheered them to a memorable victory had it not been for a timely equaliser from Brazilian striker Dodo to tie the score at 2-2.

Al Ain have, though, proved extremely strong on home soil in this year's continental competition, winning all three of their games. Indeed, in all 15 games they have played over the past four Champions League seasons, they have been defeated only once. Coach Anghel Iordanescu knows, therefore, that anything less than a place in the last four will be considered failure. 

Korean keen to make amends
Despite a tradition of success on the continental stage, teams from Korea Republic have proved underachievers since the revamped AFC Champions League was introduced in 2003.

We have yet to see a Korean representative in the final and, last season, Busan I' Park suffered a major humiliation when they conceded seven goals without reply against Al Ittihad in the two-legged semi-final.

This season, there is promise of better, with both Ulsan Horang-I and Jeonbuk Motors rampaging into the knockout stage, where the former crushed Al Shabab 6-0 in the first leg. The Saudi giants, currently under the tutelage of former Korea Republic coach Humberto Coelho, will need some heroic performances, luck and, above all, goals if they are to pull off the unlikeliest of escape acts.

Jeonbuk Motors, meanwhile, might have disappointed in their first leg 1-0 loss to Chinese giants Shanghai Shenhua in which midfield duo Kim Hyeung-Bum and Botti both picked up red cards, but coach Choi Kang-Hee is determined to set the record straight.

"We lost the first leg and there is nothing else that we can do but to try to win here," he said. "We have managed to analyse Shanghai and I am confident we will win at home again."


Quarter-final, second leg fixtures (20/9/06):

Jeonbuk Motors - Shanghai Shenhua
Al Ain - Al Qadisiya
Al Shabab - Ulsan Horang-I
Al Karama - Al Ittihad