The 2013 AFC Champions League matchday 2 throws up a series of enticing match-ups on Tuesday and Wednesday, with inaugural winners Al Ain lining up against Iranian hosts Esteghlal, and Bunyodkor squaring up with familiar foes Pohang Steelers.
Elsewhere, Al Nasr and Al Ahli meet again with the latter hopeful of maintaining their dominance from the last edition, while Jiangsu Sainty entertain Vegalta Sendai in a debutants derby, with both sides seeking a first win. Join FIFA.com as we look into the looming action across Asia.
Jeonbuk Motors-Guangzhou Evergrande
Having stunned Jeonbuk 5-1 in last year's opener, Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou travels to Korea Republic aiming to emulate the feat against the same opponents in Group F. And entering this week’s contest with a 3-0 opening defeat of 2007 champions Urawa Red Diamonds, the Chinese champions know a second victory will leave them well positioned.
Jeonbuk’s last defeat to Guangzhou proved to be, indeed, a prelude to a miserable campaign as the two-time finalists crashed out after the group phase for the first time. Revenge will, of course, be on the hosts’ minds and Fabio Lefundes' charges are boosted by their brilliant domestic form despite drawing 2-2 against Muang Thong United in the Asian opener.
Argentinian midfielder Dario Conca and Brazilian forward Muriqui, both of whom excelled as debutants Guangzhou stormed into the quarter-finals last year, are expected to continue their inspiring roles. However, the visitors must make do without Uruguayan striker Lucas Barrios, who was injured in their 5-1 defeat of Shanghai Shenxin in Friday's Chinese League season opener.
Missing a series of players due to national service, Jeonbuk has signed Australian Alex Wilkinson to shore up the defence. Upfront, veteran striker Lee Donggook remains a lethal weapon, while new signing Leonardo has made an immediate impact, striking twice to help his side to two opening victories in the K League. In the group's other match, Urawa entertain Muang Thong with each side in desperate search of three points.
The other attractions
Group A leaders Tractor Sazi travel to Qatar seeking a second win against fellow debutants El Jaish. However, the Iranian visitors must put their domestic disappointment behind them having lost 1-0 to leaders Esteghlal in the local league's top-of-the-table clash. Al Jazira welcome Al Shabab in the other game.
Pakhtakor of Group B are hopeful of continuing their winning form against Al Shabab Al Arabi, who recently lost to Dhafra 2-0 to slip to fifth on the domestic table. In the other group match-up, Al Ettifaq entertain Lekhwiya determined to bounce back, while the Saudi hosts can look to the goal-scoring form of Zamil Al-Sulim who completed a hat-trick in their recent 3-2 defeat of Hajr.
A 2-0 home win against Saba Battery saw Sepahan edge Tractor Sazi to second place in the Iranian league, and provides the Group C pace-setters with a timely boost heading to Al Gharafa. Also receiving a morale-booster are Al Ahli, who travel to Al Nasr boasting a 5-1 demolition of Najran with Bruno Cesar striking twice.
Much focus will be on Group D leaders Al Ain, who travel to Tehran hoping to maintain their perfect run against Esteghlal. The UAE giants have proved almost unstoppable on the domestic front, edging Al Wasl 2-1 recently with Asamoah Gyan grabbing a brace. In the other fixture, Al Hilal, boosted by their recent 2-0 win over Al Wahda, welcome Al Rayyan.
Despite suffering an opening 5-1 loss at FC Seoul, Group E's Jiangsu welcome fellow first-timers Vegalta on the back of their spirited 2-1 defeat of Guangzhou in the Chinese Super Cup, and a 2-1 win against Wuhan Zall in the league. FC Seoul must, meanwhile, remain wary of hosts Buriram's proven resilience.
Group G leaders Bunyodkor entertain Pohang hoping to repeat their feat last year, when they won home and away to progress. In the other match, both Beijing Guoan and Sanfrecce Hiroshima enter their first meeting seeking an opening win. The Chinese hosts can boast a 4-1 opening defeat of Shanghai SIPG, while the Japanese champions recently registered their first league triumph overcoming Albirex Niigata 2-1.
A 3-0 defeat against FC Tokyo is by no means what Group H front-runners Kashiwa Reysol had expected heading into the home game against Central Coast Mariners. Shouldering the goal-scoring tasks for the Japanese is former Guangzhou marksman Cleo who headed home the only goal against Guizhou Renhe in the opener. In the other group contest, in-form Suwon Bluewings welcome Guizhou on the back of two opening league victories.
Player to watch
Dario Conca proved the key man as Guangzhou ran riot against Jeonbuk last year, and the question now is whether the former Fluminense playmaker can relive his magic form and steer his side to another memorable victory.
9 - Home form and support invariably plays a telling factor in Asian continental competition, a fact once again borne out in the opening matchday with nine of the 16 home teams prevailing.
What they said
"Our goal is to become Asian champions. We know we need to improve more in order to become champions, but I will fight with the pride that comes from being a Japanese footballer and I know what we can do," Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato
2013 AFC Champions League matchday 2 fixtures
12 & 13 March
Group A: El Jaish-Tractor Sazi, Al Jazira-Al Shabab
Group B: Al Shabab Al Arabi-Pakhtakor, Al Ettifaq-Lekhwiya
Group C: Al Gharafa-Sepahan, Al Nasr-Al Ahli
Group D: Esteghlal-Al Ain, Al Hilal-Al Rayyan
Group E: Jiangsu Sainty-Vegalta Sendai, Buriram United-FC Seoul
Group F: Jeonbuk Motors-Guangzhou Evergrande, Urawa Red Diamonds-Muang Thong United
Group G: Beijing Guoan-Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Bunyodkor-Pohang Steelers
Group H: Kashiwa Reysol-Central Coast Mariners, Suwon Bluewings-Guizhou Renhe