In the semi-final first legs, Korea Republic's Ulsan Horang-i beat compatriots Jeonbuk Motors 3-2 in Jeonju with the goals from the captain You Kyoung-Youl, Vinicius da Silva and Choi Sung-Kuk, despite the equalisers from Ze Carlo and Yeom Ki-Hun. In the other semi-final played in Homs, Syria, Al Karama were were held to a goalless draw by Al Qadisiya of Kuwait.
Both ties in Far East and Middle East are evenly poised after the thrillers three weeks ago, and all four teams have been reinforced with some key players returning in time for the decisive matches.
Tiebreaker between the Koreans
Ulsan welcome the K-League rivals Jeonbuk to the Munsu FIFA World Cup™ Stadium on Wednesday. The semi-final second leg is going to be the fifth encounter between these two teams this year, with both of domestic league matches ending in draws. And despite the fact that the Tigers defeated the Motors 3-2 in the first leg, they will not be banking upon the advantage if they remember the 1-0 league cup defeat at home by the Motors back in July.
However, the Korean champions Ulsan are boosted by the return of their star forward Lee Chun-Soo who missed the first leg due to an ankle injury. Although the 25-year old has not played since 16 September, coach Kim Jung-Nam is confident that his return "will be a huge plus for our squad as this is one of the most important matches of this season." "Although he's not 100 per cent fit," continued Kim, "I'm sure he will show us what we expect from him."
Wednesday's game is also a top priority for Jeonbuk, who are struggling near the bottom of the K-League table. The Korean FA Cup holders have already been eliminated from the competition in the Round of 16 in July, so this will be their last opportunity to lift a trophy this year.
The Motors, who need to win to qualify for the final, will be gearing up for an all-out attack as their five-goal scoring playmaker Kim Hyeung-Bum returns from a two-match suspension after his dismissal in the quarter-final first leg against Shanghai Shenhua. The former Ulsan man scored two goals in the last two K-League matches, including the winner against the archrivals Chunnam Dragons on Saturday.
Coach Choi Kang-Hee, who also played for Ulsan in his playing career, said "We have no other option but to do whatever it takes to win because we lost at home. Our players are in good conditions both mentally and physically so I think we'll be able to play well."
Too close to call
Eight hours later in Kuwait City, Al Qadisiya will entertain Al Karama at the Friendship & Peace Stadium. But the home side will not offer the same hospitality as the name of the venue suggests.
Al Qadisiya coach Mohammed Ibrahim must have breathed a sigh of relief when his side managed to halt Al Karama's winning streak at home three weeks ago, and is hoping that the team's supporters can inspire the Kuwaits to victory. "We have a slight advantage as we will be playing at home on Wednesday and in front of our fans," said Ibrahim.
The eleven-time Kuwaiti champions warmed up ahead of this match with a win on Friday, when they beat Al Salmiya 2-0 to reach the semi-finals of the Al Kharafi Cup. Along with Nawaf Al Mutairi and Mohamed Mubarak who scored in the game, Al Qadisiya's striking hero Bader Al Mutwa will be hoping to lead the Kuwaiti club to the final.
Meanwhile, Al Karama, who overcame the defending champions Al Ittihad in the quarter-final, will be determined to make up for the missed opportunities which could have given them a precious lead coming into the Wednesday's game.
Coach Mohammed Kwid is well aware of how close the contest will be. "Both teams know each other well. This game will be settled by one chance, either a missed chance or one that is converted into a goal."
His only concern is that midfielder Jehad Al Hussein could be sidelined after suffering an injury in a recent league win against Al Wathba last week.
The final first leg will be held in the Korea Republic on 1 November, with the second leg coming a week later in either Homs or Kuwait City, depending on Wednesday night's result. The winner of the AFC Champions League will represent Asia in this year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December.
AFC Champions League
Semi-final second legs
Wednesday 18 October
Ulsan Horang-i (3) - Jeonbuk Motors (2)
Al Qadisiya (0) - Al Karama (0)
First leg scores in brackets