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AFC Champions League Quarter-finals (West): 5 Things To Look Out For


Doha: Just four teams from West Asia remain in the hunt for a place in the 2020 AFC Champions League final with the two single-leg quarter-finals to take place on Wednesday.

An exciting pair of match-ups sees Iranian champions Persepolis FC take on their Uzbek counterparts Pakhtakor and Al Nassr face Al Ahli Saudi FC in an all-Saudi affair that pits Riyadh against Jeddah.

With the games to take place back-to-back at Doha's Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, the-AFC.com picks out five things to look out for.

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1. Can Hamdallah surpass Hulk's scoring run?

Back in the opening game of the 2019 group stage Al Nassr lost 1-0 against Al Wasl in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from it being the only game in 12 that Al Wasl picked up points in disastrous 2018 and 2019 campaigns, the match is also significant as it is the last time Abderrazak Hamdallah played in the AFC Champions League yet failed to get on the scoresheet.

In truth, last season's Continental campaign was stop-start for the Moroccan; when he played he scored, as he did in both legs of the Round of 16 win over Al Wahda and in the second leg of the quarter-final loss to Al Sadd. While injury curtailed his season, he still managed to find the back of the net each time he took to the field.

Fast forward to 2020 and Hamdallah continued where he left off, netting at home to Al Sadd and away at Al Ain in February, before arriving in Qatar and notching goals in successive games against Sepahan to seal Al Nassr's place in the knockout rounds. He then sat out his side's remaining two group games but returned to, unsurprisingly, score the winning goal in the Round of 16 against Al Taawoun.

The 29-year-old is now on a remarkable nine-game scoring run that matches Hulk's tally from the 2017 campaign when he fired Shanghai SIPG into the semi-finals. Strikers love nothing more than breaking records, and you can guarantee Hamdallah will be desperate to turn nine into 10 in the quarter-final against Al Ahli Saudi and surpass the big Brazilian.


2. Pakhtakor eye Tehran double

One of Asia's most storied clubs, Pakhtakor appeared in the inaugural edition of the AFC Champions League when, back in 2002-03, they reached the semi-finals in a feat they repeated a year later. Since 2010, however, the Tashkent giants have endured a tough time on the Continent, suffering six group stage eliminations between 2011 and 2019.

There were hints that the Uzbek champions could be set to reestablish themselves as a force last year, though, when only a stoppage-time Al Ahli Saudi goal denied them a place in the knockout rounds. Following on from a play-off round elimination a year earlier, it had been a vastly improved campaign and one from which Pakhtakor took four points from Wednesday's opponents Persepolis.

Round of 16: Pakhtakor 2-1 Esteghlal FC

Shota Arveladze's side continued their resurgence at the beginning of 2020, winning their opening two games before arriving in Qatar in September and sealing a return to the knockout rounds. It was here Pakhtakor underlined their status as genuine title contenders, coming from a goal down to oust Esteghlal 2-1 on Saturday with a performance full of belief.

Next up is another Azadi Stadium side as the Uzbek and Iranian champions square off in a mouthwatering fixture, aiming for their first semi-final appearance since 2004. To topple one Tehran giant is one thing, to do the double in a matter of days would add further proof that this is a team to be reckoned with.


3. Veteran Abdulghani up against former club

Hussein Abdulghani has had a long and successful career in which he has, among other achievements, become the oldest player to ever appear in the AFC Champions League. At 43 years 240 days old, he wrote his name into the history books when he started in Al Ahli Saudi's group stage tie with Al Shorta and he has twice broken his own record since.

It all began with his current team more than 25 years ago with the Jeddah native enjoying plenty of success at his hometown club. But, between departing Al Ahli in 2008 and returning in 2019, he spent eight seasons with Al Nassr, where he won the only two Saudi Pro League titles of his career. It is no exaggeration to say the left-back is a legend at both clubs.

On Wednesday, the two sides where the left-back has spent the vast majority of his career face off for a place in the semi-finals and both will consider they have realistic hopes of lifting the 2020 AFC Champions League. For Abdulghani, it may well be the last chance he has of getting his hands on a trophy he has never really come close to winning.

No longer a guaranteed starter, the veteran was brought off the bench in the Round of 16 win over Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, producing a composed display in the centre of the park and scoring in the penalty shootout. While the clock may be ticking down on a lengthy career Abdulghani still has plenty to offer, and a tilt at the title at his former club's expense could be a fitting finale.


4. Al Kasir on the rise

When news broke that Persepolis' top scorer for the past three seasons Ali Alipour was departing for Portugal prior to the 2020 AFC Champions League's resumption, and with goalscoring midfielder Mehdi Torabi also on his way out, fans of the Tehran side must have wondered where the goals would come from in Qatar.

Signed from Sanat Naft Abadan, Isa Al Kasir was the man charged with filling Alipour's boots but, while Persepolis picked up six points from their first three games in Doha, their new striker registered just one shot on target. But when the Khuzestan native opened his account with a fine header in a 4-0 win over against Sharjah on Matchday Six, perhaps a weight was lifted from his shoulders.

Round of 16: Persepolis FC 1-0 Al Sadd SC

Goals breed confidence and Al Kasir went into the Round of 16 clash against Al Sadd hungry for more. Despite the Qataris having by far the higher number of shots on goal, no player managed more than the striker's six, two of which hit the woodwork after darting runs into the box that struck of a frontman full of belief.

And with two minutes remaining his efforts paid off as Al Kasir headed home from close range to secure a place in the quarter-finals. With two goals from two games, Persepolis fans may no longer be yearning for Alipour and Pakhtakor will surely be wary of facing a player whose confidence has returned.


5. Al Nassr target unchartered territory

While none of the four teams remaining in the West Asia side of the AFC Champions League draw have ever won the competition, the trio of Pakhtakor, Al Ahli Saudi and Persepolis have all appeared in the semi-finals, with the latter two having also reached the 2012 and 2018 finals respectively.

Despite winning three Saudi Pro League titles in the past decade and appearing in four AFC Champions league editions prior to 2020, Al Nassr have failed to establish themselves among the elite in the same way that domestic rivals Al Hilal, Al Ittihad and Al Ahli have managed to do. Indeed, last year's quarter-final appearance was their best performance to date.

The Riyadh club have, however, enjoyed success on the Continent before when, in the 1990s, they won the Asian Cup Winners' Cup, the Asian Super Cup and finished runners-up in the Asian Club Championship. And, after reaching the last eight for a second successive season, belief could well be growing that they can rise to the fore once more.

Watching their city rivals Al Hilal lift their first AFC Champions League title last year must have stung but, boasting a squad full of talent and a prolific goalscorer, they are now eyeing a first semi-final appearance and will have ambitions of ensuring the coveted trophy remains in the Saudi capital.

Polls ends at 21:00 (UTC +8) on September 30.

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