With Al Ittihad’s place in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League already secure, a number of teams will have the chance to join them this week when the group stage’s penultimate round unfolds. Al Sadd, Sepahan and Zob Ahan require just a point, while victory would all but bank Al Hilal, Bunyodkor, Tianjin Teda, Nagoya Grampus and Jeonbuk Motors tickets to the knockout phase.
A selection of other sides, meanwhile, simply must win to throw themselves a lifeline, among them Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentown. FIFA.com previews the upcoming action.
Sharing the section summit on nine points, both Sepahan and Al Hilal enter their second encounter seeking to obtain Group A's first qualifying berth. Boasting a 2-1 win from their previous meeting, the Iranians are further boosted by their solitary-goal victory at Sanat Naft this weekend, with the result leaving them on the brink of retaining the Pro League crown.
Gabriel Calderon's charges, for their part, will be inspired by their successful domestic title defence on Friday. Egyptian striker Ahmed Ali Kamel has proved a major influence for them, while captain Yasser Al Qahtani is back to his goal-scoring best having netted a brace in their 3-2 triumph over Al Jazira.
Spearheading Sepahan's attack is the talented Ibrahima Toure, while midfielder Ahmad Jamshidian has recently gained a reputation for scoring crucial goals. Regardless the result, Al Gharafa, who won the Qatar Crown Prince Cup by beating Al Arabi 2-0 on Friday, can still salvage a lifeline if they defeat Jazira.
The other attractions
With Al Sadd within a point of qualification, Group B looks like a three-way battle for the second qualifying spot. Bottom side Pakhtakor must put their recent 1-0 loss at Mash'al behind them when they challenge second-placed Al Nassr, who lost the weekend's domestic fixture 3-0 at Al Ittifaq. Esteghlal, with their hopes of the Iranian title severely dented by the goalless draw with Shahin, face a must-win battle against Al Sadd.
Despite sharing spoils with Foolad in a 1-1 draw, Zob Ahan are expecting to claim Group D's first qualification with a point against Emirates. In the section's other match, Al Rayyan have no option but win the match at Al Shabab, who are fresh from a 2-1 triumph over Al Wehda.
Revenge will be on Melbourne Victory's minds when they host second-placed Gamba Osaka, to whom they lost 5-1 first time out, in Group E. The Australian hosts must win, while the Japanese side can qualify from the section alongside leaders Tianjin Teda if both win.
It is similar scenario in Group F, with joint-leaders Nagoya Grampus and FC Seoul expecting to advance with wins over Al Ain and Hangzhou Greentown respectively. FC Seoul can take heart from their recent 2-1 win over Jeju United while Nagoya are also boosted after defeating Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 in the weekend’s J.League outing. However, the Japanese holders will have to be wary of the in-form Hangzhou, who moved to the C-League summit with a 2-1 home win over Shenzhen Ruby.
A win at Shandong Luneng will assure Jeonbuk Motors' progression from Group G but even a defeat won't confirm the elimination of the Chinese champions, who will be left to battle for the second spot against Cerazo Osaka in the concluding match. In Group H, Suwon Bluewings and Kashima Antlers, level on six points at the top, will progress if both win against Sydney FC and Shanghai Shenhua.
If his recent prolific form is anything to go by, Jeonbuk ace Lee Dong-Gook looks set to inspire his side to early progression. Having scored the only goal against Cerezo in the previous match, the 32-year-old went on to run riot on the domestic scene, firing a hat-trick in their 6-2 demolition of Incheon United, which moved his side second in the standings.
What they said
"The boys put in a great performance in China, and the result and the way the team played really has given them confidence. We need to get a result to really have a chance to qualify, so our main goal is to be successful tomorrow night," Vitezslav Lavicka, Sydney FC coach
Matchday 5 fixtures
Tuesday & Wednesday
Group A: Al Gharafa-Al Jazira, Sepahan-Al Hilal
Group B: Al Nassr-Pakhtakor, Al Sadd-Esteghlal
Group C: Persepolis-Al Ittihad, Bunyodkor-Al Wahda
Group D: Emirates-Zob Ahan, Al Shabab-Al Rayyan
Group E: Gamba Osaka-Melbourne Victory, Tianjin Teda-Jeju United
Group F: FC Seoul-Al Ain, Nagoya Grampus-Hangzhou Greentown
Group G: Shandong Luneng-Jeonbuk Motors, Arema Indonesia-Cerezo Osaka
Group H: Kashima Antlers-Shanghai Shenhua, Suwon Bluewings-Sydney FC