The 2013 AFC Champions League group campaign reaches the crucial penultimate matchday this week with a series of leading sides aiming to seal early progression and join Al Ahli and Al Shabab in the Round of 16.
Notably, Guangzhou Evergrande, Al Gharafa and Kashiwa Reysol only need a draw to make it through regardless of the other results. But the likes of FC Seoul, Lekhwiya and Bunyodkor must count on three points to qualify. Join FIFA.com as we look into these enticing match-ups in detail:
Urawa Red Diamonds-Guangzhou Evergrande
Sitting at third place in their respective leagues, Urawa and Guangzhou enter the match in contrasting moods. Mihailo Petrovic's hosts, with just four points from four matches face a must-win while Marcello Lippi's visitors just need a point to move on. And the two sides are in differing forms as well, with Urawa losing 1-0 to Omiya Ardija and Guangzhou thumping Chuangchun Yatai 6-1 in their most recent match-ups.
The 2007 winners are not lacking in creativity, with captain Yuki Abe driving the team from midfield. And they are in no shortage of firepower, either, with striking sensation Genki Haraguchi their top-scorer on both the domestic and Asian front. Mental focus and composure, though, remains a problem for Urawa having twice conceded the lead to lose and then draw against Jeonbuk Motors.
Under Lippi, the Chinese champions have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. As the tournaments' joint top-scorers alongside Al Ahli with 12 goals, they can look to their formidable attacking line-up in Lucas Barrios and Muriqui with confidence. And with China captain Zheng Zhi pulling the strings in midfield alongside Dario Conca, Guangzhou are expecting to emulate their first-leg 3-0 victory.
In another anticipated match-up, Jeonbuk entertain bottom-dwelling Muang Thong United knowing a win can send them through, if Uwara don't win. The 2006 champions lost to Incheon United 3-1 to slump to fifth in the local standings, but with in-form Brazilian duo Eninho and Leonardo complementing captain Lee Donggook in the attack, the hosts are capable of unlocking the Thai side’s defense.
The other attractions
In Group A, with Al Shabab already qualified, the battle for the second spot takes centre stage. Leading the race is El Jaish, who are hoping to strengthen their hold on second with a win over visiting Al Shabab. Debutants Tractor Sazi will look to Seyed Salefi and his recent prolific form to challenge Al Jazira.
Group B front-runners Lekhwiya travel to bottom side Al Shabab Al Arabi, with an away win enough to book their passage through. Despite conceding their domestic title to Al Sadd recently, they can count on top-scorer Sebastian Soria to obtain the crucial points. And even a point can seal their qualification, if Pakhtakor win or draw at Al Ettifaq.
With Al Ahli through and Al Nasr out, Group C's Al Gharafa, courtesy of their six-point cushion ahead of Sepahan, need just a point at Al Ahli to complete their qualifying mission. Sepahan, though, face a must-win situation at Nasr.
Group D leaders Esteghlal, who are coming off a fortunate 1-1 draw against Sepahan which maintained their single-point lead in the Iranian league, welcome bottom side Al Rayyan. A win for Esteghlal will all but seal their place in the top two, if the other game between Al Hilal and Al Ain, level on six points, is decided by a victory.
Group E strugglers Jiangsu Sainty entertain in-form FC Seoul, who are expecting to secure passage to the next round with an away triumph, boosted by their recent 4-0 dismantling of Daegu FC. Another game pits hosts Buriram United against Vegalta Sendai, with both sides seeking to maintain their hopes with three points.
Group G leaders Bunyodkor face what seems to be a comfortable match at home against the already eliminated Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Needing three points to advance, though, the Uzbek giants are aware they must improve their home form, having twice drawn at Tashkent. In the other match, Beijing Guoan welcome Pohang Steelers who will aim to re-take second place with three points.
In Group H, runaway leaders Kashiwa Reysol will be eagerly anticipating Guizhou Renhe, with a point enough to seal their place in next round. Boosted by their recent crowning in the A-League, though, Central Coast Mariners look to mount a serious challenge against hosts Suwon Bluewings with both sides keen to maintain their hopes of progressing.
Player to watch
28 goals from 19 matches is the remarkable number Asamoah Gyan has reached in the UAE League with Al Ain. With just a goal scored in the Champions League, though, the question now is whether the Ghanaian international can translate his domestic form to the Asian front.
5 - The tournament's joint lowest goal-scorers with five goals each, Al Shabab and Bunyodkor are nonetheless among the most efficient sides, with the former sealing progression with two games to spare, while the latter are on the cusp of qualification.
What they said
"While we enter the match against Urawa with a clear edge, we should keep wary of our opponents, who have nothing to lose. They are staring at elimination and they will spare nothing in attack to win the game.” Guangzhou Evergrande's Brazilian top-scorer Muriqui
23 & 24 April
Group A: Al Jazira-Tractor Sazi, El Jaish-Al Shabab
Group B: Al Ettifaq-Pakhtakor, Al Shabab Al Arabi-Lekhwiya
Group C: Al Nasr-Sepahan, Al Gharafa-Al Ahli
Group D: Esteghlal-Al Rayyan, Al Hilal-Al Ain
Group E: Jiangsu Sainty-FC Seoul, Buriram United-Vegalta Sendai
Group F: Urawa Red Diamonds-Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Motors-Muang Thong United
Group G: Bunyodkor-Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Beijing Guoan-Pohang Steelers
Group H: Suwon Bluewings-Central Coast Mariners, Kashiwa Reysol-Guizhou Renhe