So the underdogs had their day. On a night of high drama in the AFC Champions League, Al Karama and Al Qadisiya came from nowhere to pull off two the biggest surprises in the tournament's history as they shocked Al Ittihad and Al Ain respectively to book their slots in the semi-finals.
Korea Republic, meanwhile, whose representatives have never reached the final of the revamped continental competition, ensured a maiden final appearance when Ulsan Horang-I and Jeonbuk Motors set up a semi-final date with aggregate victories over Al Shabab and Shanghai Shenhua.
Syrians claim holders' scalp
Al Karama continue to prove the tournament's surprise package. Having been beaten 2-0 by the holders one week ago in Riyadh, the Syrian outfit went into the crucial return leg with their hopes hanging by a thread, with few expecting them to turn the tables on reigning champions Al Ittihad.
However, playing on home soil at the Khaled Bin Al Waleed Stadium and cheered on by their passionate supporters, Al Karama started strongly against an Al Ittihad outfit that looked a shadow of the team that had strolled to victory a week earlier. Midfielder Ivad Mondo had the home crowd on their feet after 41 minutes as he headed home a Mohamad Al Hamwi cross and young striker Ahmed Al Omeir doubled the lead just three minutes into the second half to level the score 2-2 on aggregate.
With neither side able to find a winner, the game went into extra time, where 20-year-old Mohanad Ibrahim emerged as the Syrian hero, twice firing past Saudi keeper Mabrouk Zaid to seal a famous win and set up a semi-final meeting with Al Qadisiya.
Old order rocked
Like Al Karama, Al Qadisiya played their part in overturning the old order set by the continent's giants. The Kuwaiti side's formidable rivals Al Ain have certainly established their credentials in Asia's premier competition, having won the inaugural AFC Champions League in 2003 and managed to reach the knockout stage in each of its four editions so far.
After securing a 2-2 away draw, Al Ain also looked to have set the tie up perfectly to be killed off at home. Yet, as it was, Al Qadisiya celebrated something of a football miracle, winning 3-0 to progress 5-2 on aggregate thanks to three goals from the Kuwaiti champions' Oman internationals Fouzi Basheer and Mohamed Mubarak.
Credit, too, must go to Al Qadisiya coach Mohammed Ibrahim, whose tactics proved perfect for the occasion, with the visiting side pressing forward in the opening stages and then sitting back and counter-attacking swiftly after Basheer's opener had put them in front.
Al Ain coach Anghel Iordanescu certainly made no attempt to conceal his disappointment in the post-match press conference, where he attributed his side's defeat to a lack of fighting spirit. "This is a black night for me and I have to say sorry to the fans," the former Romania coach said. "Sometimes players just don't play well, but at least they could have fought. The reason they did not do this, I do not know."
Korean hopes doubled
While Al Ain were adjudged by their coach to be lacking in heart, it was an entirely different story for the two Korean sides who bravely forced their way into the last four.
Ulsan Horang-I, who had effectively sealed their place in the semis with a 6-0 victory in the first leg, had an easy time against Al Shabab, Park Dong-Hyuk scoring the only goal five minutes after the interval to seal an emphatic 7-0 aggregate scoreline.
Another Korean team, Jeonbuk Motors, performed even better to defeat the powerful Shanghai Shenhua 4-2 and progress 4-3 on aggregate. Facing a 1-0 first leg loss and suspension of two key players, Jeonbuk also had to content with conceding the opening goal to the visiting Chinese team, who went ahead through Gao Lin to extend their aggregate lead. However, the home battled back strongly and their attacking efforts finally paid dividends when Ze Carlo pulled a goal back just before the break.
Jeonbuk Motors then upped the tempo yet further after the interval and Ze Carlo completed his brace on 61 minutes to level the aggregate score at 2-2. The momentum was now firmly with the Koreans and two goals in the space of three minutes from Yeom Ki-Hun and Chung Jung-Kwan left Shanghai staring elimination in the face. Former Germany and Bayern Munich forward Castern Jancker was sent on to break his duck for the Chinese club, but although he succeeded in doing just that, his last-minute strike proved too little, too late.
The semi-final first legs will now take place on 27 September and, with an all-Korean clash and a battle of the competition's two giant-killers in store, more intrigue and drama looks all but guaranteed.
Quarter-final second legs
Al Karama 4-0 Al Ittihad
Al Shabab 0-1 Ulsan Horang-I
Al Ain 0 -3 Al Qadisiya
Jeonbuk Motors 4-2 Shanghai Shenhua
Semi-final first legs
Al Karama - Al Qadisiya
Jeonbuk Motors - Ulsan Horang-I
Semi-final second legs
Al Qadisiya - Al Karama
Ulsan Horang-I - Jeonbuk Motors