With a host of former winners lining-up in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals, four tight matches seemed likely. And so it proved with three narrow wins for the home sides and a scoreless draw meaning all four contests remain delicately poised heading into next week’s return legs.
Inaugural Champions League winners Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates are best placed after their 2-0 win over Al Ittihad, while Al Hilal fared better than their vanquished Saudi compatriots by edging a 1-0 win over Qatar’s Al Sadd. In the east, continental debutants Western Sydney Wanderers continued their unlikely rise with a 1-0 victory over holders Guangzhou Evergrande, while the all-Korea Republic affair between FC Seoul and Pohang Steelers ended in a goalless stalemate. FIFA.com reviews a tense matchday across the continent.
Al Ain 2-0 Al Ittihad
UAE’s Al Ain gained a small dose of revenge for their defeat against Al Ittihad in the 2005 final with a 2-0 home win over the Jeddah-based giants. Quality second-half strikes from Ismail Ahmed and Asamoah Gyan leaves the 2003 champions in the ascendency for the second leg, in what is their first quarter-final appearance for eight years. Al Ain had not beaten the Saudi club in four previous meetings in the AFC Champions League, but they took a deserved lead when Ahmed volleyed in the opening goal three minutes into the second half. Ghana superstar Gyan then finished superbly 13 minutes later after he was picked out by a fine through pass from Omar Abdulrahman to complete the scoring.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 Guangzhou Evergrande
A match filled with incident ended in favour of Western Sydney Wanderers with the A-League side continuing their dream run at home against the holders. There were chances at both ends, including for FIFA World Cup™ winner Alberto Gilardino on his Champions League debut, but it was the Wanderers who struck on the hour mark in the pivotal moment of the match. A tame looking cross from the left delivered by fullback Antony Golec seemed to elude everyone on its way inside the far post, although forward Tomi Juric was credited with the goal. The contest ended in tumult with Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin dismissed for the visitors. The Chinese powerhouse now have little margin for error at home without the insurance of an away goal.
The other attractions
Al Hilal also have the upper hand after the first leg of their showdown with Qatar’s Al Sadd as Salman Al Faraj’s second-half strike gave the Saudi giants a 1-0 win over the 2011 champions. Sadd perhaps departed Riyadh happy enough with their lot after suffering a 5-0 loss on their last trip to Ittihad earlier in the competition. A hard fought contest was settled by an excellent Al Faraj finish, who rifled home from a narrow angle midway through the second period.
The clash between K-League Classic sides Pohang Steelers and FC Seoul remains tantalisingly poised after the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in the Steelyard. Pohang were largely on top of a tight contest but struggled to break down FC Seoul's backline and when they did, they found goalkeeper Yu Sanghun in exemplary form. It was perhaps an expected deadlock after the two sides had drawn their last two encounters on the domestic stage.
Normally it is the forwards who dominate the headlines but FC Seoul had goalkeeper Yu Sanghun to thank for a series of impressive stops on Pohang’s home turf.
4 – When in form Chinese Super League kings Guangzhou Evergrande appear unstoppable, but their erratic results in Asia continued with a fourth loss in nine Champions League matches this season. Victors Western Sydney Wanderers, meanwhile, earned a fourth successive cleansheet at home.
“There is no one getting carried away in our dressing room. We have a slight advantage but we are just in front at half-time.” Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic