Little-known Syrian side Al Karama and Korea Republic's Jeonbuk Motors have been causing a stir in the continental showpiece, but they both came crashing down to earth on the wrong end of surprise results in the semi-final first-legs on Wednesday night.
Al Karama were held to a goalless draw by 11-time Kuwaiti champions Al Qadisiya while, in another all-Korean affair, Jeonbuk Motors lost out to Ulsan Horang 2-3.
For the raucous home supporters at the Khaled bin Al Waleed Stadium in Syria it was a double disappointment as the draw was also Al Karama's first in the competition on home soil. The Syrians had proven themselves invincible at home as they defeated UAE giants Al Wahda, Iranian emerging powers Qatari Al Gharafa and Saudi side Al Ittihad. But their luck seemed to have run out on Wednesday.
In a game that they largely dominated, Al Karama pressed hard from the outset but against the ultra-defensive Al Qadisiya, they lacked the necessary composure. The home side should have taken the lead after 21 minutes through a series of defensive errors in the Al Qadisiya rearguard, but Mahamad Al Hamwi's sizzling shot flew over.
Al Karama's second chance of note came two minutes later when Iyad Mando launched a swift counterattack. This time Al Qadisiya had their goalkeeper, Al Khaldi, to thank as he reacted to deny Ahmed Al Omeir. Al Karama went on to dictate the pattern in the second half, but appeared anxious in front of goal as chance after chance went begging.
Al Qadisiya coach Mohammed Ibrahim was thrilled after the goal-less draw. "We succeeded in breaking Al Karama's winning streak at home and it was all down to our defenders and our brave goalkeeper who kept a clean sheet in the game." Going into the return leg , the former Kuwait coach sounded optimistic about booking a place in the AFC Champions League final.
"It is not over yet as there is still another game to be played. On October 18 we will do our best to win the return leg especially as it is played at our home ground."
Ulsan stay perfect
In the other semi-final played earlier, rampaging Ulsan Horang kept their 100 per cent winning record intact after scraping past Jeonbuk Motors 3-2. Coach Kim Jong-Nam's Ulsan Horang went into the game having won all of their previous matches and scoring 10 times without reply.
Despite playing away, Ulsan got off to a dream start as Yu Kyoung-Youl put the visitors ahead after only six minutes. Jeonbuk Motors' Brazilian forward Ze Carlo leveled with a 26th minute spot kick, but eight minutes before the break the visitors saw their lead restored courtesy of Vicinius' well-taken free-kick.
Jeonbuk had a glimpse of hope when Yeom Kee-Hun scored after the interval to level the score again. However, an 81st minute mistake by goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae proved deadly as Choi Sung-Kuk ran through to head home the winning goal.