The second matchday of the 2014 AFC Champions League offers up a series of enticing match-ups on Tuesday and Wednesday, with six pairs of familiar foes crossing paths across the continent once again. Notably, two-time champions Al Ittihad, who defeated Al Ain over two legs in the final in 2005, entertain the inaugural winners hoping to maintain their undefeated head-to-head record.
Last year's runners-up FC Seoul, meanwhile, travel to the Chinese capital to challenge Beijing Guoan, a team they eliminated in the past edition's last 16, while seasoned sides Sepahan and Al Hilal meet again with either side in desperate search of the first win. FIFA.com previews all the action from matchday 2:
Al Ittihad-Al Ain
For the two sides' faithful supporters, the re-match from Group C serves to remind them of the glorious past. Both teams were dominant forces in the Champions League when they last met in the final nine years ago, although Al Ittihad won 5-3 on aggregate as the Jeddah giants clinched the Asian silverware in back to back years.
Things have changed greatly since then for Al Ittihad, however. The influential Mohammed Noor, defender Redha Takar and Saud Khariri - all of whom figured significantly during their 2005 successful campaign - recently left for new pastures. Al Ain also lost striker JIres Kembo-Ekoko to El Jaish and defender Musallem Fayez to Al Jazira.
With striker Naif Hazazi's departure last summer, the Saudi hosts must look to the goal-scoring form of emerging Mukhtar Fallatah if they seek to bounce back. Al Ain, for their part, will count on new signing Belgian forward Yassine El Ghanassy to enhance their attacking-line alongside known threat Asamoah Gyan.
It should also be a redemptive match for the duo, who have fallen well off the pace in their respective leagues. Al Ittihad sit sixth in the table with their hopes of finishing top three all but shattered. Al Ain are, too, languishing at a humble eighth place as holders after losing at Al Nasr 1-0. In the group’s other game, Tractor Sazi travel to Qatar hoping to continue their impressive form at Lekhwiya.
The other attractions
There is a top-of-the-table meeting from Group A when Al Shabab play host to Al Jazira. Having opened in triumphant fashion, both sides are aiming to strengthen their lead with a second win in two games, but the Saudi hosts can boast a clear mental edge after winning both home and away during last year's meetings at the same stage. Al Rayyan, meanwhile, welcome Esteghlal on the back of Saturday's 3-0 victory against Qatari SC in the Stars League.
After being held to a goalless draw by novices Al Fateh, Group B's Bunyodkor are aware they should enhance their firepower if they are to obtain their first win against El Jaish in Tashkent. In the other match, Al Fateh face an uphill task at Iranian League leaders Foolad.
2011 winners Al Sadd from Group D take on hosts Al Ahli with their sights firmly fixed on a second triumph but the Qataris visitors should keep wary of the form by the runaway leaders in the United Arab Emirates league. Elsewhere, having obtained four points in their previous meetings against Al Hilal in 2012, Sepahan are hoping to emulate the old feats against the Saudi opponents
There is a clash of champions in Group E, with Buriram United taking on Pohang United. Both sides are longing for a taste of Champions League victory, but they have showed lacklustre domestic form of late. Cerezo Osaka and Shandong Luneng, meanwhile, enter their match-up in winning form after defeating Tokushima Vortis 2-0 and Harbin Yiteng 1-0, respectively.
Group F's Beijing Guoan and FC Seoul head into the encounter with contrasting domestic forms. The Chinese hosts opened brightly with a 1-0 home defeat of Changchun Yatai on Saturday while the last year's runners-up suffered a 1-0 home defeat by Jeonnam Dragons. But FC Seoul can take heart from their overwhelming record last year, while the home side must make do without midfielder Darko Matic through suspension and injured Joffre Guerron. Central Coast Mariners, too, see their Dutch defender Marcel Siep missing due to suspension as they seek first points against visitors Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Group G's joint leaders Guangzhou Evergrande and Jeonbuk Motors are aiming to continue their perfect run against Yokohama F. Marinos and Melbourne Victory, respectively, and their hopes of a second win are boosted after beating Henan Jianye and Busan I'Park by an identical 3-0 scoreline.
Group H's front-runners Ulsan Hyundai welcome Kawasaki Frontale with both sides hoping to consolidate the lead with a second win. Ulsan received a timely boost after overcoming Pohang recently while Kawasaki came from a goal down to draw Vissel Kobe 2-2 at home. Elsewhere, Guizhou Renhe are longing to bounce back against Western Sydney Wanderers but their Bosnia and Herzegovina duo Zvjezdan Misimovic and Zlatan Muslimovic - both of whom were missing in the goalless draw at Jiangsu Sainty - remain doubtful due to injuries.
Player to watch
Guangzhou Evergrande's hopes are bolstered by the news that last year's tournament top-scorer Muriqui looks fit for the Yokohama match. The Brazil marksman was rested against Henan in the C League season opener and is expected to reproduce his talismanic form against the Japanese hosts.
What they said
"Chinese teams have raised their game over recent years and Shandong are definitely a force to be reckoned with after they finished runners-up in the league last year. It will be a tough encounter," said Cerezo coach Ranko Popovic.
Matchday 2 fixtures
March 11 and 12
Group A: Al Rayyan-Esteghlal, Al Shabab-Al Jazira
Group B: Bunyodkor-El Jaish, Foolad-Al Fateh
Group C: Lekhwiya-Tractor Sazi, Al Ittihad-Al Ain
Group D: Sepahan-Al Hilal, Al Ahli-Al Sadd
Group E: Cerezo Osaka-Shandong Luneng, Buriram United-Pohang Steelers
Group F: Beijing Guoan-FC Seoul, Central Coast Mariners-Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Group G: Melbourne Victory-Jeonbuk Motors, Yokohama F. Marinos-Guangzhou Evergrande
Group H: Ulsan Hyundai-Kawasaki Frontale, Guizhou Renhe-Western Sydney Wanderers