Asian quartet target opening triumph

Battles between teams from Asia's east and west have often characterised the AFC Champions League knockout stage, and the semi-finals this year have proved to be no exception, with Korea Republic's Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk Motors pitted against Al Sadd of Qatar and Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad respectively.

Determined to retain the continental title for their country for a record third consecutive year, the K-League duo will do everything in their power to secure opening wins. But the Saudis, boosted by their back-to-back success in 2004 and 2005, have fixed their own sights on a continental treble while the Qataris are aiming to spring a surprise. Join as we preview the enticing pair of matches.

The match
Al Ittihad-Jeonbuk Motors
The showdown at Jeddah's Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium has all the necessary elements for a classic meeting, with two-time winners Ittihad welcoming 2006 champions Jeonbuk. The two sides are no strangers to each other, having crossed paths at the same stage in the 2004 edition, the Saudis running out 4-3 aggregate victors on that occasion. Indeed, coach Dimitri Davidovic's home team can take heart from their proud record against K-League sides. Not only did they defeat Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 6-3 on aggregate in the Asian final seven years ago, they edged past FC Seoul 3-2 in September’s quarter-finals of the current edition. But it is Choi Kang-Hee's visitors that enter the match as the tournament's most prolific side with 26 goals in nine games, ten more than Ittihad's 16.

Not surprisingly, the Koreans are expected to employ their trademark attacking approach to gain the upper hand against the Saudis. "We will never play defensively even though this is an away match," vowed Choi. "The game is critical for both sides but our players have a strong mindset." Jeonbuk's goalscoring hopes may depend on striking ace Lee Dong-Gook, who is currently top of the scoring chart with nine goals. Ittihad, for their part, can count on the evergreen talisman Mohammed Noor, who proved the driving force as they twice conquered the continent. As a matter of fact, the 33-year-old playmaker and captain has set his sights even further. "Al Ittihad have what it takes to dominate Asia," he told in a recent interview. "There is only one goal at the end of the day and that’s the trophy."

The other attraction
Suwon Bluewings-Al Sadd
Suwon play host to Al Sadd with both sides participating in the last four for the first time, despite each boasting a glorious Asian record prior to the competition's inception in 2003. The four-time Korean champions twice won the former Asian Club Championship, in 2001 and 2002, while the 12-time Qatari kings also reigned supreme in the 1989 edition.

The first leg at Suwon's World Cup Stadium marks the first-ever meeting between the two sides, but the hosts can boast a seasoned campaigner in captain Yeom Ki-Hun, who featured predominantly for Jeonbuk as they won the 2006 tournament. "I have never played Al Sadd before," the 28-year-old playmaker told "But I have a lot of experiences against the west Asian teams. They have tremendous skills and pace and we must deal with them carefully."

Suwon remain the only team to have stayed unbeaten in this year's campaign, while Al Sadd progressed to the final four despite losing both legs in the quarter-finals to Sepahan. The Iranian heavyweights had their 1-0 first-leg win cancelled for fielding an ineligible player, meaning Al Sadd were handed a 3-0 victory, and subsequently went out despite winning the return 2-1. But the Qataris enter the game in top form, with three consecutive domestic victories taking them to the top of their league. Suwon, however, must put their 1-0 defeat to Seongnam in Saturday's Korean FA Cup final behind them.

Player to watch
Having scored the equaliser in the second-leg 2-2 draw which saw Ittihad scrape past Jeonbuk seven years ago, defender Osama Al Harbi went on to enhance his reputation for scoring crucial goals when he netted the winner in their first-leg 3-1 win over FC Seoul.

The stat
4 - The meeting with Jeonbuk marks Ittihad’s fourth appearance in the Asian semi-finals.

What they said
"It has been too long since we last won an Asian title so it is time that we returned to the top in Asia. I believe our side have sufficient qualities to make it," Suwon coach Yoon Sung-Hyo

2011 AFC Champions League semi-final, first leg fixtures
19 October
Suwon Bluewings-Al Sadd
Al Ittihad-Jeonbuk Motors