Following victories in last week's opening matchday, the 11 successful Asian clubs will be striving to keep up their good form in this year's AFC Champions League when the action resumes on Wednesday. Notably among them are the two Australian sides, Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory, who both opened their campaign with a 2-0 win to sprint to the top of their respective groups.
Adelaide, who upset Korea Republic's Pohang Steelers on their travels, play host to China PR's Changchun Yatai, who laboured to a narrow 2-1 win over Vietnamese outfit Binh Duong at home last time out. The encounter provides both sides with food for thought as their two countries will also meet on 26 March in the second matchday of Asia's third round qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
With the opportunity to build up a strong lead in the section, the home side's coach and former player Aurelio Vidmar is hoping to gain the three points through relentless attacking. "We've got to be aggressive, otherwise we are not going to win and that's what we lacked at times last year," said the United coach, who oversaw his team's disappointing debut in the continental competition last year, where they failed to progress beyond the group stage. "If we don't get the right result here at home then what we did last Wednesday means nothing."
Vidmar's opposite number, Gao Hongbo, is ready to admit that his team have an uphill task against Adelaide . "Taking into consideration that they defeated Pohang with ten men, Adelaide are unquestionably our biggest rivals to top the group," said the former Chinese international striker. "They are very well organised and physically stronger than us but we can count on our strikers' speed to breach their rearguard."
At the same time, Australian champions Melbourne Victory step into the unknown when they travel to Thailand for the next fixture against Chonburi, who impressed by holding their Japanese hosts Gamba Osaka to a 1-1 draw in their first game. Despite this, Victory striker and Australian international Archie Thompson believes his side will be able to return with all three points.
"We know Chonburi are going to be full of confidence after the 1-1 result against Osaka, but we're here to get three points," said the A-league's all-time leading scorer. "Anything less and I would be disappointed."
Wednesday's second round pits Group A's two winners together. Two-time champions and Saudi Arabia giants Al Ittihad, who only saved their blushes with a late goal against debutants Kuruvchi of Uzbekistan, will have a hard time against their Syrian namesakes in the away fixture. The Syrian Al Ittihad go into the encounter following a morale-boosting 2-0 defeat of Iran's Sepahan.
Striker Jesus Gomez, who opened scoring against Sepahan, is quick to announce their goal: "We are aiming to reach the last eight," he declared.
Also locking horns in another Saudi-Syria clash are Al Ahli and
Al Karama, who beat Al Wahda in their curtain-raiser. After losing
their opener 2-1 to Qatari power Al Sadd, Al Ahli are left with no
option but win to keep their hopes alive.
However, Al Karama coach Mahammed Kwid, who took his side to the final two years ago, has set his sights beyond the group stage. "The opening win will give us the impetus we need to build on in previous editions of this competition," he said.
With the winning sides looking to strengthen their leads, there are a number of tournament hopefuls who are in desperate search of their first victories. Despite going down to Australian opposition first time out, both Pohang Steelers and Chunnam Dragons are determined to overcome Bind Duong and Gamba Osaka respectively, while Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor will be out to undo Al Gharafa.
Saipa entertain Al Wasl, but the Iranian side's coach Ali Daei is aware that home advantage does not necessarily equate to victory. "Playing at home doesn't mean that you will win the game. Hopefully we will though."
AFC Champions League 2008, Matchday 2 fixtures:
19 March, Wednesday
Group A: Al Ittihad (Syria) - Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia), Kuruvchi (Uzbekistan) -Sepahan (Iran)
Group B: Al Quwa Al Jawiya (Iraq) - Kuwait SC (Kuwait), Saipa (Iran)- Al Wasl (UAE)
Group C: Al Ahly (Saudi Arabia)- Al Karama (Syria), Al Sadd (Qatar)- Al Wahda (UAE)
Group D: Al Qadsia (Kuwait) - Arbil (Iraq), Al Gharafa (Qatar) - Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan)
Group E: Binh Duong (Vietnam) - Pohang Steelers (Korea Republic), Adelaide United (Australia) - Changchun Yatai (China)
Group F: Kashima Antlers (Japan) - Nam Dinh (Vietnam), Beijing Guoan (China) - Krung Thai Bank (Thailand)
Group G: Chunnam Dragons (Korea Republic) - Gamba Osaka (Japan), Chonburi (Thailand) - Melbourne Victory (Australia)