Round of 16: When domestic rivals collide
Kuala Lumpur: With the 2019 AFC Champions set to return in just a few days time, the striking thing about the Round of 16 encounters is that half of them feature sides from the same country going head-to-head.
In the East, defending champions Kashima Antlers are tasked with fellow J.League team Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Chinese duo Guangzhou Evergrande and Shandong Luneng will also lock horns.
On the other side of the Continent, meanwhile, Qatari powerhouses Al Sadd and Al Duhail face off, while there is also an intriguing Riyadh–Jeddah clash between rivals Al Hilal and Al Ahli. Both matches, however, will not take place until August.
Ahead of the ties, the-AFC.com looks back on five other times the last 16 has pitted clubs from the same domestic league against one another.
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*1. Defending champions crash out
*Gamba Osaka 2-3 Kawasaki Frontale (2009)
An expansion of the AFC Champions League saw the Round of 16 introduced for the first time in 2009 and, after topping their group, holders Gamba Osaka were faced with an all-Japan encounter against Kawasaki Frontale.
Played over one leg in those days, Gamba had the home advantage and went into the interval with a 2-1 lead following a brace from Brazilian Leandro.
But Kawasaki came out firing after the break, with goals from Renatinho and Masaru Kurotsu in the final 15 minutes stunning those inside Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium and sending the defending champions crashing out.
Kawasaki were eliminated by another Japanese side – Nagoya Grampus – in the last eight, a stage they have still yet to advance beyond in the ensuing years.
2. Clash of the titans
Al Ittihad 3-1 Al Hilal (2011)
A mouth-watering tie pitted two-time AFC Champions League winners Al Ittihad against their biggest domestic rivals and two-time Asian Club Championship winners Al Hilal in 2011.
Having won the title in 2004 and 2005, Al Ittihad – who also finished runners-up in 2009 – were aiming for an unprecedented third title and had few problems in Jeddah.
Quick-fire goals by Nuno Assis and Abdelmalek Ziaya inside 20 minutes gave the hosts a comfortable lead at half-time before Portuguese forward Assis made it three just before the hour.
Al Hilal grabbed a consolation through Abdullaziz Al Dosari but it was too little too late, while Al Ittihad’s quest for number three was ended by Al Ain in the next round.
3. An Emirati classic
Al Ain 3-3 Al Ahli (2015)
Inaugural winners Al Ain went into the knockout stage unbeaten in 2015 and the recently crowned UAE Pro League champions were favourites to advance past Dubai side Al Ahli.
Two-legged ties were introduced in 2013 and, after the first leg ended goalless, fans were treated to a classic at Al Ain's Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, where Ghanaian Asamoah Gyan gave the hosts an early lead, which was cancelled out by Salmin Khamis shortly after the interval.
The game went into overdrive from then with an Ahmed Khalil double suddenly putting the visitors 3-1 up before the hour. Gyan gave the hosts hope with 12 minutes remaining but, needing two, the game was ultimately up despite a stoppage-time goal by Rashed Eisa.
Al Ahli made it all the way to the final but just missed out on becoming the United Arab Emirates’ first champions since Al Ain in 2003 following a narrow 1-0 defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande.
4. Miraculous comeback thwarted
El Jaish 6-4 Lekhwiya (2016)
Doha sides Lekhwiya and El Jaish – who later would merge to form the present-day Al Duhail – were paired together in 2016 and a remarkable two legs ensued.
A Romarinho brace in the first leg helped El Jaish to a comprehensive 4-0 away win to mean they had one foot in the last eight before the return fixture. With the game tied a 1-1 after the opening 45 minutes, there was little to suggest any other outcome.
Ismail Mohamad then netted twice within five minutes for the visitors shortly after half-time but Chico Flores’ red card on the hour seemingly dampened Lekywiya’s hopes, only for Nam Tae-hee’s penalty in the 65th minute to suddenly leave Djamel Belmadi’s team needing just one to progress.
It was not to be, however, as Romarinho struck with 20 minutes to play to effectively end the tie and secure El Jaish’s place in the quarter-finals, where they overcame Al Nasr before exiting to Al Ain in the last four.
5. Two-time champions toppled
Guangzhou Evergrande 2-2 Tianjin Quanjian (2018)
A scoreless draw in the first leg between Continental giants Guangzhou Evergrande and tournament debutants Tianjin Quanjian in 2018 meant two-time winners Guangzhou were marginal favourites going into the second leg at their home, Tianhe Stadium.
In front of more than 48,000 spectators, Brazilian Ricardo Goulart opened the scoring in the 17th minute but, with the away goal always a danger, Alexandre Pato’s leveler put Tianjin in the driving seat just two minutes later.
Goulart restored Guangzhou’s lead early in the second half, only for a similar scenario to play out as Wang Jie equalised soon after to leave Fabio Cannavaro’s Tianjin sensing an upset.
Amazingly, Guangzhou had 31 efforts on goal compared to Tianjin’s four across the 90 minutes but the home side were unable to find the crucial third goal as the visitors held on to progress to the last eight, where they lost to eventual winners Kashima Antlers.
Photos: Getty Images
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