The semi-finals are upon us in Asia’s premier club competition, with four of the continent’s biggest names set to battle it out.
Last year's runners-up Al Hilal entertain Al Ahli in their first leg aiming to seal a place in the final for a consecutive second time. Having beaten Al Ain at the same stage of last season’s competition, the Saudi hosts will be hopeful of emulating that feat at the expense of another side from United Arab Emirates. The other last-four duel pits Guangzhou Evergrande against Gamba Osaka, with this tie having sparked the collective imagination across Asia.
Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at these showdowns.
29 & 30 September
Al Hilal-Al Ahli
Guangzhou Evergrande-Gamba Osaka
Guangzhou Evergrande-Gamba Osaka
Although this match represents the two sides' first-ever meeting, Guangzhou can take heart from their impressive record against J. League sides. The Chinese side have come out on top against six different Japanese teams over the recent years, producing nine wins out of 15 and progressing at their opponents' expense on each occasion. Gamba, though, won five out of ten against five different Chinese opponents, including a notable win over Guangzhou R&F which sealed their passage to the knockout stage in this year's group phase.
In-form Guangzhou enter the showdown on the back of a 3-2 victory at Guizhou Renhe, which maintained their place at the summit of the table. For Luiz Felipe Scolari, it is a result which boosts their hopes of winning a domestic and Asian double - a feat achieved by his predecessor Marcello Lippi, in 2013. Yet the Brazilian is all too aware that they cannot underestimate Kenta Hasegawa's visitors, who have gone eight matches undefeated in all competitions.
Gamba's confidence is also bolstered by the return of star striker Takashi Usami, who was on target as they defeated Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 at home on Saturday. Yasuhito Endo will also there to pull the strings, having captained his side throughout a campaign that included victory over Jeonbuk Motors in the previous stage. Guangzhou, meanwhile, will count on skipper Zheng Zhi to provide experience and leadership, while the Brazilian attacking line-up of Ricardo Goulart and Elkeson will shoulder the goalscoring responsibility.
The other attraction
In the other semi-final, Al Hilal welcome Al Ahli, with the Saudi hosts aiming to build on an unbeaten record against their Emirati visitors - three wins and three draws from their past six AFC Champions League meetings. A 4-2 aggregate semi-final victory against Al Ain will provide the home side with added confidence as they prepare to welcome another team from UAE. The Riyadh giants are also unbeaten in their five most recent fixtures in all competitions, successes which included knocking out Lekhwiya 6-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.
Al Hilal, meanwhile, will again look to their free-scoring new Brazilian signing Carlos Eduardo, who has been on target six times – a haul that included three against Lekhwiya - since joining the club. Al Ahli, for their part, will be pinning hopes of the striking duo of UAE international Ahmed Khalil and former Benfica striker Lima. The visitors can also count on the knowledge and experience of coach Cosmin Olaroiu, who took Al Hilal to the Round of 16 in 2009 before spending a short spell in charge of Saudi Arabia last year.
Player to watch
Despite only joining Guangzhou in the middle of this season, Paulinho has quickly developed a habit of scoring crucial goals. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder broke his AFC Champions League duck with a sublimely-taken free-kick as his side won 3-1 at Kashiwa in the quarter-final first leg before sealing their recent win against Guizhou with a spectacular stoppage-time strike.
7 - With 8 goals to his name in this year's campaign, Goulart is on course to become the seventh Brazilian import to dominate the Asian goal-scoring chart since Magno Alves in 2006.
What they said
"I'm not sure that it’s necessarily an advantage that we’ll have the second leg at home, but the fact that we could make it to the final in front of our home supporters does make us more determined and feel encouraged," Gamba Osaka forward Takashi Usami.