The race for places in the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League 2008 intensifies when Matchday 4 of 6 takes place on Wednesday. And with only the group winners joining defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds in the last eight, the forerunners can ill afford to take their foot off the pedal. FIFA.com looks ahead to the action.
Beijing go for broke
An east-Asian meeting between Beijing Guoan and Kashima Antlers will headline the round and could determine which team will seize Group F's ticket to the next stage. The reigning J-League champions edged their rivals 1-0 at home last time out to go three points ahead of them at the summit, and a repeat result in the Chinese capital would effectively seal their progression. Given Kashima's vastly superior goal difference, Beijing need to go for broke and beat their rivals by two clear goals to leave themselves in pole position due to a better head-to-head record.
A missed penalty from Tiago Jorge Honorio cost Beijing a point in Japan, but they are confident they can find their finishing touch this time around. "We created good chances against them so a 2-0 win at home is nothing impossible," said Guoan defender Yang Pu.
Guoan's attacking plan, however, does not concern Antlers coach Oswaldo de Oliveira. "For a defensively strong team like Guoan, they will very possibly leave holes at the back if they focus too much on attacking," he said. "Then we will certainly make the best advantage of their errors."
Another side facing a must-win game are Melbourne Victory, who will play at Group G leaders Gamba Osaka. The Australians' skipper, Kevin Muscat, is refusing to throw in the towel, despite the fact that they are four points off the pace and one behind second-placed Chonburi. "There is no doubt it is a massive challenge for us. ," he vowed.
Adelaide United and Changchun Yatai are tied on seven points atop of Group E, but it is the latter who face the tougher test - a trip to Korean K-League champions Pohang Steelers, on three points - on Matchday 4. "We bring an 18-player team who will show they are warriors but not tourists," said Yatai coach Gao Hongbo.
Adelaide will be expected to make light work of their Vietnamese visitors Binh Duong, who are pointless at the foot.
Kuruvchi of Uzbekistan are the surprise pacesetters in Group A, and they will look to make it nine points from a possible 12 against runners-up Syrians Al Ittihad, whose Saudi namesakes will take to the field under the tutelage of Gabriel Calderon for the first time. The Argentinian will strive to plot Sepahan's downfall, and move his new side on to six points and into qualification contention in the process.
Ali Daei's Saipa entertain second-placed Al Quwa Al Jawiya hoping to extend their three-point cushion atop of Group B. Meanwhile in Croup C, Qatari outfit Al Sadd, in second, will visit leaders Al Karama, who would go six points ahead of their opponents with victory.
Al Qadsia may sit three points clear of Pakhatakor in Group D - and five in front of their forthcoming opponents - but Al Gharafa are confident they can upset the Kuwaiti giants, especially with Younis Mahmoud, who inspired Iraq to AFC Asian Cup 2007 glory, leading their line. " ," said Al Gharafa captain Saad Al Shammari, who has been ruled out by an ankle injury.
AFC Champions League 2008, Matchday 4 fixtures:
Wednesday 23 April
Group A: Kuruvchi (Uzbekistan) - Al Ittihad (Syria); Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia) - Sepahan (Iran)
Group B: Saipa (Iran) - Al Quwa Al Jawiya (Iraq); Kuwait SC (Kuwait) - Al Wasl (United Arab Emirates)
Group C: Al Wahda (United Arab Emirates) - Al Ahly (Saudi Arabia); Al Karama (Syria) - Al Sadd (Qatar)
Group D: Al Gharafa (Qatar) - Al Qadsia (Kuwait); Arbil (Iraq) - Pakhtakor(Uzbekistan)
Group F: Beijing Guoan (China) - Kashima Antlers (Japan); Nam Dinh(Vietnam) - Krung Thai Bank (Thailand)