The AFC Champions League group stage goes down to the wire in Matchday 6 this week as eight teams do battle for the remaining four spots in the last 16. While a dozen teams have already booked passage to the knockout stage, there will be intense competition amongst the other teams hoping to extend their participation beyond the group phase.
Newcastle Jets are expected to salvage Australian hopes when they take on Ulsan Hyundai, knowing that a point will send them through at the expenses of their Korean hosts. The same though can't be said of Al Arabi, who require an away win against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor to keep United Arab Emirates interest in the competition alive.
Chinese giants Shandong Luneng and Korea Republic champions Suwon Bluewings both appear to have fairly straight forward tasks as they face Indonesia's Sriwijaya and Armed Forces of Singapore respectively, with victory enough to seal their passage to the knockout stage regardless of results from other matches.
The big match
Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) - Newcastle Jets (AUS)
With Japan's Nagoya Grampus booking progression and Beijing Guoan eliminated with defeat in their last match, Ulsan Hyundai and Newcastle Jets are left competing for the group's second qualifying spot. The Australian side are not only one point clear of their rivals, but also with a mental edge, having recorded a 2-0 win in their previous group encounter. Spurred on by the home crowd, Hyundai are expected to stake a strong claim for the requisite three points, just as they did in back-to-back matches last month against Beijing Guoan, twice defeating the Chinese side by an identical 1-0 scoreline.
Bunyodkor (UZB) - Al Arabi (UAE)
The visiting Al Arabi face a dilemma when they travel to Tashkent to challenge local giants Bunyodkor. Trailing the Uzbek side by one point, Al Arabi must push players forward at some stage in order to secure all three points. The visitors though will be wary of their attack-minded hosts who boast the likes of Brazilian star Rivaldo and the reigning AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov, who are both capable of taking advantage of a defensive line that has conceded eleven goals in five games so far. The UAE side though will draw inspiration from their first leg victory, when their striking duo Hassan Shirook and Musawenkosi Mguni scored a goal apiece to secure an impressive 2-0 win.
If the Armed Forces' surprise 1-1 draw against Shanghai Shenhua in the previous game is anything to go by, the Singaporean champions won't be taken lightly by hosts Suwon Bluewings, who need a win to guarantee the group's second qualifying spot. The equation for Shanghai is not as simple with the Chinese club needing to record a home win over J.League leaders Kashima Antlers, but also rely on Suwon failing to snatch all three points.
In Group F, it is Chinese side Shandong Luneng who have destiny firmly in their own hands. Despite being level with FC Seoul on seven points, a win over Sriwijaya is enough to see Shandong through ahead of the Korean side, thanks to a superior head-to-head record having claimed four points over the course of the matches between the two sides.
Player to watch
Sasho Petrovski's scoring form is likely to be key for Newcastle Jets if they are to gain the required point against Ulsan Hyundai. Despite turning 34 in March, the former Socceroo showed he still has predatory instincts around goal by scoring twice in his team's 2-0 first leg win over Hyundai. In the penultimate group match against Beijing Guoan, Petrovski was again on target to score a late equalizer, before Sean Rooney sealed an unlikely 2-1 win deep into injury time.
What they said
"We have been preparing for the game against Ulsan Hyundai since the recovery after the win over Beijing so we can't wait to get out there and come away with three points," Newcastle Jets skipper Matt Thompson.
2009 AFC Champions League Matchday 6 fixtures:
Group A: Al Ahli (UAE) - Saba Battery (IRN); Al Hilal (KSA) - Pakhtakor (UZB)
Group B: Persepolis (IRN) - Al Shabab (KSA)
Group C: Al Ittihad (KSA) - UMM-Salal (QAT); Al Jazira (UAE) - Esteghlal (IRN)
Group D: Sepahan (IRN) - Ettifaq (KSA); Bunyodkor (UZB) - Al Arabi (UAE)
Group E: Beijing Guoan (CHN) - Nagoya Grampus (JPN); Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) - Newcastle Jets (AUS)
Group F: Sriwijaya (IDN) - Shandong Luneng (CHN); Gamba Osaka (JPN) - FC Seoul (KOR)
Group G: Suwon Bluewings (KOR) - Armed Forces (SIN); Shanghai Shenhua (CHN) - Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Group H: Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) - Pohang Steelers (KOR); Central Coast (AUS) - Tianjin Teda (CHN)