Matchday Six: West Zone Preview
Kuala Lumpur: After more than two months of thrilling action, the 2019 AFC Champions League group stage concludes this week with eight West Asia clashes across Monday and Tuesday.
With seven out of the eight round-of-16 West sides already confirmed, the final matchday will see clubs battle for the top spot in their respective groups.
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A dramatic end to the Matchday Five fixture between Al Zawraa and Zobahan saw the Iranian side score deep in added time to snatch a 2-2 draw in Karbala, confirming their place in the next stage and consigning Al Zawraa to group-stage elimination on their return to the AFC Champions League.
Things were more straightforward in Riyadh, where Al Nassr cruised to the Round of 16 thanks to a 3-1 victory over Al Wasl. The Saudis’ third consecutive win meant they are four points ahead of third-place Al Zawraa with one game to go.
The top two now go head to head on Tuesday as they look to decide who tops the group. Zobahan have a two-point advantage in the race and a draw will be enough for them to finish the group stage as leaders and qualify unbeaten.
An added-time goal had given Zobahan the three points in the reverse fixture on Matchday Two. Al Nassr had taken the lead five minutes into that game in Dubai, but two first-half strikes and Motahar’s 91st minute goal meant Zobahan got a valuable 3-1 away win.
In Dubai, bragging rights and a third-place finish are at stake as Al Wasl look to avenge their 5-0 humbling in Karbala two months ago. Al Zawraa want to end on a high and a draw will suffice if they are to avoid finishing bottom of the group.
Zobahan (IRN) vs Al Nassr (KSA)
Venue: Karbala Sports City, Karbala
Kick-off: May 21, 21:00 UTC+3:00
Al Wasl (UAE) vs Al Zawraa (IRQ)
Venue: Zabeel Stadium, Dubai
Kick-off: May 21, 22:00 UTC+4:00
Just as in the previous group, the two sides who have qualified to the Round of 16 face-off on the final matchday. In Group B, it is Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad and UAE’s Al Wahda.
Al Wahda had brushed aside PFC Lokomotiv 3-1 on Matchday Five, while Al Ittihad came away from Doha with a 2-0 win over Al Rayyan two weeks ago, confirming their place alongside the Emiratis in the next stage.
Having enjoyed a 4-1 win over Al Ittihad in the reverse fixture, Al Wahda hope their trip to Jeddah ends in a similar fashion as they look to send their coach Henk ten Cate off in style. The Dutchman, who took over at Al Nahyan Stadium at the start of the season, announced his departure at the end of the month.
Al Ittihad, on the other side, have finally survived a frustrating domestic season and escaped the threat of being relegated from the top division for the first time in their history.
Bottom-placed Al Rayyan travel to Tashkent to face a Lokomotiv side that sit one place and one point above them in the group table.
Al Ittihad (KSA) vs Al Wahda (UAE)
Venue: King Abdullah Sport City, Jeddah
Kick-off: May 21, 22:00 UTC+3
PFC Lokomotiv (UZB) vs Al Rayyan (QAT)
Venue: Lokomotiv, Tashkent
Kick-off: May 21, 19:00 UTC+5
Group C is the only one out of all eight 2019 AFC Champions League groups that has both first and second place already confirmed. Al Hilal are guaranteed to top the group before their final match, while Al Duhail have joined them in the next stage in second place.
The Saudi side had beaten Al Ain 2-0 in the previous matchday, taking their tally to 12 points. Meanwhile, Al Duhail settled for a 1-1 draw against Esteghlal at Azadi Stadium, which was enough to send them through.
Coach Rui Faria celebrated the first title of his managerial career over the weekend, leading Al Duhail to win the Qatar Amir Cup after beating rivals Al Sadd 4-1, and his side look to end their season on a high on Monday.
Al Hilal, in turn, conceded the Saudi Pro League title to rivals Al Nassr on the penultimate matchday this week.
At Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain have one last chance to avoid the unwanted record of going an entire AFC Champions League campaign without a win for the first time in their history. They host Islamic Republic of Iran’s Esteghlal. The two sides had played out a 1-1 draw at Azadi Stadium in Matchday Two.
Al Duhail (QAT) vs Al Hilal (KSA)
Venue: Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: May 20, 21:00 UTC+3:00
Al Ain (UAE) vs Esteghlal (IRN)
Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: May 20, 22:00 UTC+4
Unlike the other three West Zone groups, the battle for second place is going to the wire in Group D, with Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli both still standing a chance going into the final matchday.
The two Round-of-16 contenders go head to head at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium in Jeddah. And while Al Ahli have the home advantage, Pakhtakor have a two-point lead on their opponents, meaning they only need a draw to progress.
The first encounter between the two in Tashkent two months ago was closely-contested, with a second-half Marat Bikmaev strike proving the difference at the final whistle.
In the other group game, Al Sadd travel to Azadi Stadium to face Persepolis in completely different circumstances to last year’s semi-final. The Iranians have now officially been eliminated, while Al Sadd are through to the next round.
The match offers fans a chance to watch one of the greatest midfield players of all time for the last time. Al Sadd captain Xavi will hang up his boots after Monday’s fixture, ending a 22-year-long career which saw him become one of the most decorated footballers in history.
Persepolis (IRN) vs Al Sadd (QAT)
Venue: Pakhtakor Central Stadium, Tashkent
Kick-off: May 20, 19:30 UTC+4:30
vs Al Ahli (KSA) vs FC Pakhtakor (UZB)
Venue: King Abdullah Sport City, Jeddah
Kick-off: May 20, 22:00 UTC+3
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