Asian football fans look set for a treat after yesterday's draw for the quarter-finals of the 2007 AFC Champions League in Kuala Lumpur threw up some mouthwatering fixtures. The race for the continental title and a coveted place at this year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan will recommence in three months' time, when the last eight battle it out from 19 September to 14 November.
Having been handed a bye to this stage, reigning champions Jeonbuk Motors open their title defence with an difficult trip to face Japanese heavyweights Urawa Reds, while their fellow representatives from Korea Republic, Seongnam Chunma play host to Syria's Al Karama. Kawasaki Frontale, who won a place in the history books by becoming the first ever Japanese side to book a place in the last eight, were not rewarded with a kind draw, and will have their work cut out against past Iranian outfit Sepahan. Elsewhere, in another intriguing pairing, Al Wahda from United Arab Emirates will cross swords with Saudi Arabia side Al Hilal in an all-western Asian affair.
For the first time since the tournament's inception in 2003, there are as many as four eastern Asian competing in the knockout stage, with two representatives apiece from Korea Republic and Japan. They will be aiming to continue the good work started year by Jeonbuk, who against all odds became the first eastern Asian team to claim the continental crown.
While Jeonbuk will be hopeful of hanging on to their title, they could hardly have wished for a tougher test than facing Urawa Reds, who have made no secret of their ambition to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup in front of their own fans.
The Japanese league and cup double winners were given something of a baptism of fire on the continental scene, but despite the resolute resistance of Sydney FC, a goalless draw against the Australians in their final group match enabled Urawa to join already-qualified Kawasaki Frontale in the last eight. Inspired by that initial success, the Japanese giants will be hoping to break further ground by becoming the first Japanese club to lift a continental trophy since Shimizu S-Pulse clinched the Asian Cup Winners Cup in 2000.
"Our goal for this year is to win both J.League and AFC Champions League," was the open admission of Urawa Reds team manager Morihiko Yamaji after the draw ceremony. "Playing against a Korean team will be easy for us in terms of travel, so we are not disappointed about the draw."
Al Karama aiming high
As for Syrians Al Karama, who proved the biggest surprise packages in the history of the tournament by reaching last year's final, they will be hoping to avenge that 3-2 defeat to Jeonbuk when they face up to another side from Korea Republuc, Seongnam Chunma.
The beaten finalists proved unstoppable at home in their fairy tale run into the final last year, winning all six games, including a remarkable 4-0 demolition of defending champions Al Ittihad, and they also emerged top of their group this year on the back of an undefeated home record. Seongnam would do well, therefore, to establish a first leg advantage when they host the Syrians on Korean soil on 19 September.
Coach Mohammed Kwid, who guided Al Kamara to last year's final, certainly believes that his side are once again capable of defying their many doubters. He said: "Many people cast doubts over Al Karama and said we would fail this year, but we have proved otherwise so far."
2007 AFC Champions League knockout stage
Matchday 7 (quarter-final, first leg)
QF1: Sepahan (IRN) v Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
QF2: Seongnam Chunma (KOR) v Al Karama (SYR)
QF3: Al Wahda (UAE) v Al Hilal (KSA)
QF4: Urawa Reds (JPN) v Jeonbuk Motors (KOR)
Matchday 8 (quarter-final, second leg)
Matchday 9 (semi-final, first leg)
SF1: Winner QF2 v Winner QF4
SF2: Winner QF1 v Winner QF3
Matchday 10 (semi-final, second leg)
Matchday 11 (final, first leg)
Winner SF2 v Winner SF1
Matchday 12 (final, second leg)