The race to be crowned Asia's premier club gathers steam this week with the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League kicking-off. The competition resumes after a three-month break with first-leg ties on both the east and west of the continent.
Kawasaki Frontale play hosts to Nagoya Grampus in an all-Japanese affair while Korea Republic's Pohang Steelers and FC Seoul are on the road facing Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan and Qatar's Umm-Salal respectively. In a match postponed to Thursday, Tashkent-based Pakhtakor entertain two-time winners Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at the intriguing pairings.
Bunyodkor - Pohang Steelers
The Brazilian influence will be all-pervading when Bunyodkor cross swords with Pohang Steelers. Both sides are under Brazilian tacticians, with the home side guided by none other than former Brazil and Portugal coach Luis Filipe Scolari while the visitors have Sergio Farias at the helm. Former FIFA World Cup™-winner Rivaldo has played an integral role in Bunyodkor's campaign while Pohang are indebted to Denilson, who has scored five times in as many outings. Farias' charges are in solid form on the home front having won the Peace Cup last weekend, but Bunyodkor are running riot on the domestic scene having built up a remarkable 19-point lead ahead of nearest challengers Pakhtakor.
The other headliner
Pakhtakor - Al Ittihad
The second match in Uzbekistan is truly a meeting of two giants of the continental stage. Al Ittihad are the only team to have twice won the Asian title while Pakhtakor have featured in every edition of the tournament since 2003. The hosts have fared smoothly to date, including outstripping Saudi club Ettifaq in the round of 16. However since then they have lost ace striker Zaynitdin Tadjiyev, who moved to China's Tianjin Teda, with Alexander Geynrikh forced to shoulder much of the goalscoring burden. Al Ittihad too are hamstrung by the absence of Saudi international striker Naif Hazazi but can call on the creative talents Mohamed Noor in order to unlock the Uzbek defence.
With domestic bragging rights up for grabs, the battle between Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus is expected to be fiercely contested. It is first-leg hosts Kawasaki who start with a clear mental edge, having won both of their J-league meetings this season. But Grampus enter the match with a win under the belts having claimed three points with a 2-0 triumph at Omiya Ardija on the weekend, while at the same time Frontale were losing to Urawa Red Diamonds by an identical scoreline.
In the final quarter-final pairing, Umm-Salal face a formidable rival in the shape of FC Seoul, the current leaders of the K-League. The scoring form of Umm-Salal's Brazilian strike duo Magno Alves and Davi will likely be key for the Doha-based side while FC Seoul will look for Montenegro hotshot Dejan Damjanovic to unlock the hosts' rearguard.
Player to watch
With his relentless tackles and thunderbolt shots, midfielder Odil Ahmedov has developed into Pakhtakor's key man around whom the fortunes of the team revolve. Following a spate of departures for Bunyodkor, the 21-year-old has been scoring regularly, including completing a brace in the recent 6-1 demolition of Kyzylkum. His combination with striker Alexander Geynrikh invariably proving pivotal to the team's success.
What they said
"The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil and I want to participate in the tournament as a manager. In order to move on to a bigger stage, I need to win more games as the Steelers coach," Pohang Steelers coach Sergio Farias.
2009 AFC Champions League quarter-final first-leg fixtures:
Kawasaki Frontale (Japan) - Nagoya Grampus (Japan)
Umm-Salal (Qatar) - FC Seoul (Korea Republic)
Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan) - Pohang Steelers (Korea Republic)
* Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan) - Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia)