Big guns on the verge
© AFP

A crop of heavyweights are expected to emerge from the penultimate matchday in the group phase having joined Gamba Osaka, Kawasaki Frontale and Pakhtakor in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League.

Among them are all four Saudi representatives. Victories would seal the progression of Al Ittihad, Al Shabab and Ettifaq through, while a point against Iran's Saba Battery would be enough for Al Hilal to guarantee a top-two finish in their section. Over in the east, Nagoya Grampus and Suwon Bluewings will advance if they beat Ulsan Hyundai and Kashima Antlers respectively, while a home win over Central Coast Mariners will seal Pohang Steelers' passage.

The big match
Kashima Antlers-Suwon Bluewings

This round is marked by derbies between Korea Republic and Japan, with six of their eight teams crossing swords. The most noteworthy is the battle between Kashima Antlers and Suwon Bluewings, reigning champions of their respective countries and level on nine points at the top of Group G. Having won their first meeting 4-1, the Koreans know that victory would bank their presence in the next round. In the pool's other game, Singapore Armed Forces need to overcome Shanghai Shenhua to keep alive any realistic hope of making the cut.

Other headliners
Esteghlal-Al Ittihad

Both Esteghlal and two-time Asian champions Al Ittihad can take heart from their recent conquests on the domestic stage when they cross paths. The Saudi giants claimed their eighth league title with a 2-1 over Al Hilal on 12 April, while only a fortnight later, Esteghlal captured the Iran Pro League crown for the second time. Al Ittihad are dominating Group C with eight points, and an away victory would see them through. Despite languishing at the bottom with only two points, however, the Iranians can keep their slim hopes alive with a win. UMM-Salal of Qatar play host to Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates in the section's other match, knowing that three points at home can fire them into the last 16.

Newcastle Jets-Beijing Guoan
A must-win encounter will take place between Newcastle Jets and Beijing Guoan, who are level on four points behind the front two in Group E. The victors will earn themselves a qualification lifeline, while the losers will be all out of the competition. The game will also be a Griffiths family reunion: Ryan and Joel inspired Beijing to a 2-0 success in their previous meeting, but Adam will be out for revenge on home soil. Meanwhile, leaders Nagoya Grampus entertain second-placed Ulsan Hyundai, with the Japanese side determined to secure three points and a place in the last 16.

Elsewhere
Persepolis would qualify if they beat Sharjah and Al Shabab defeat Al Gharafa in Group B's other game. In Group D, the top two teams, Ettifaq and Bunyodkor, will do battle with the winners advancing, while strugglers Sephan and Al Arabi will collide requiring victory to keep their hopes intact.

A draw with Group F winners Gamba Osaka would be enough for Shandong Luneng to make the last 16, while FC Seoul simply have to win against Sriwijaya of Indonesia.

AFC Champions League 2009, Matchday 5 fixtures
5 and 6 May

Group A: Pakhtakor (UZB)- Al Ahly (UAE); Saba Battery (IRN)- Al Hilal (KSA)
Group B: Al Shabab (KSA)- Al Gharafa (QAT); Sharjah (UAE) - Persepolis (IRN)
Group C: Esteghlal (IRN)- Al Ittihad (KSA); UMM-Salal (QAT)-Al Jazira (UAE)
Group D: Al Arabi (UAE) - Sepahan (IRN); Ettifaq (KSA) - Bunyodkor (UZB)
Group E: Newcastle Jets (AUS) - Beijing Guoan (CHN); Nagoya Grampus (JPN) - Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)
Group F: FC Seoul (KOR) - Sriwijaya (IDN); Shandong Luneng (CHN) - Gamba Osaka (JPN)
Group G: Kashima Antlers (JPN) - Suwon Bluewings (KOR); Armed Forces(SIN) - Shanghai Shenhua (CHN)
Group H: Tianjin Teda (CHN) - Kawasaki Frontale (JPN); Pohang Steelers(KOR) - Central Coast Mariners (AUS)