Passage to the 2015 AFC Champions League semi-finals goes up for grabs this week with decisive contests set to take place in both east and west Asia. Guangzhou Evergrande and Al Hilal both enter their respective matches on the back of emphatic first-leg victories, while Al Ahli are confident of progressing having clinched a crucial solitary-goal away win.
Elsewhere, Gamba Osaka face a must-win scenario against visiting Jeonbuk Motors. With their hopes severely dented by the suspension of top-striker Takashi Usami, the Japanese hosts will look to ageless captain Yasuhito Endo to provide the necessary leadership and drive. Join FIFA.com as we preview these enticing match-ups across Asia.
Gamba Osaka-Jeonbuk Motors
Many eyes will be on the champions’ derby as 2008 winners Gamba entertain Jeonbuk, who clinched the title two years earlier in 2006. While both are aiming to become the first team to lift the trophy for a second time since Al Ittihad in 2005, it is the visitors who enter the re-match seeking to keep their undefeated record intact. The K League champions won at home, before drawing away against the same side during the group phase enroute to the championship nine years ago.
Indeed, Choi Kanghee’s Jeonbuk arrive in Osaka knowing that they can advance with a 1-1 draw despite being held to a goalless tie at home. Kenta Hasegawa’s home side are, though, all too aware that nothing other than victory will be enough to seal their return to the semi-finals. While the pressure is on Gamba to win at home, the task is not helped by the suspension of top-scorer Takashi Usami.
Despite this, the hosts can look to the goalkeeping form of Masaaki Higashiguchi who pulled off a series of standout performances between the sticks on the last occasion that the pair met. On the plus side, defender Yasuyuki Konno is back from suspension to help shore up the defence. Gamba have gone five matches unbeaten since the first-leg meeting, notably recording a 2-1 win at Kashima Antlers recently. Jeonbuk, for their part, received a timely boost after bouncing back to defeat FC Seoul 3-0 on Saturday.
The other attractions
On the surface at least, Luiz Felipe Scolari's Guangzhou Evergrande should have every reason for confidence against visiting Kashiwa Reysol, having won comfortably 3-1 away. Aside from the strong home support, the Chinese champions' hopes were further boosted after defeating Shanghai SIPG 3-0 in the top-of-the-table clash on Saturday - a result which saw them return to the summit. With the team hitting peak form under the Brazilian coach, they are hoping to emulate their feats of two years ago when they won the domestic and Asian double.
Al Hilal, too, enter the return at Lekhwiya on the back of their convincing 4-1 home victory. They can also look to the goal-scoring form of new Brazilian acquisition Ailton, who added to his opening goal against Lekhwiya with two recent strikes as Hilal opened the new Saudi league season with successive wins. However, the visitors will be mindful of the Qatari hosts' home form, which has seen them undefeated so far in this campaign in Doha.
Elsewhere, tournament debutants Naft Tehran face an uphill task against Al Ahli having lost 1-0 at home. Their domestic form does little to suggest otherwise as the Iranians remain winless five matches into the new season. The hosts, however, have displayed contrasting form routing Al Fujairah 8-1 in the UAE league season opener.
Player to watch
Having competed in the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup representing hosts UAE as the local champions, Al Ahli entered the Asian campaign seeking a return to the global showpiece. Their hopes partly lie on the shoulders of captain Ahmed Khalil who has struck five times as his side stormed into the knockout stage for the first time in history. The former AFC Youth Player of the Year enters the home game in prolific form after being on target four times as UAE thrashed Malaysia 10-0 in the recent 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier.
5 - Five of the last eight teams, namely Gamba Osaka, Jeonbuk Motors, Guangzhou Evergrande, Al Ahli and Lekhwiya enter this year's AFC Champions League representing their respective countries as the local champions.
What they said
"Although a draw is enough for us to progress, we will spare nothing to battle for a victory. This is the most important competition in Asia and the champions will go to the FIFA Club World Cup, so we are playing for a place in the global championship." Guangzhou Evergrande striker Ricardo Goulart
Second leg fixtures
15 & 16 September
Guangzhou Evergrande-Kashiwa Reysol
Gamba Osaka-Jeonbuk Motors
Al Ahli-Naft Tehran