Round of 16 2nd leg – West: 5 Things To Look Out
Amman: Only a week after the first legs of the 2019 AFC Champions League in West Asia, the eight teams are ready to meet again for the decisive return meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
The first round of fixtures brought about plenty of talking points, and the-AFC.com has selected five things to look out for in this week’s matches.
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Will Al Wahda win in the knockout rounds?
When Al Wahda topped Group B to advance to the Round of 16, it’s fair to say it was a rare achievement in the AFC Champions League. Since reaching the 2007 semi-finals, the Abu Dhabi side had fallen at the group stage on five occasions.
In last week’s first leg away at Al Nassr, Leonardo’s equaliser helped claim a commendable 1-1 draw and they have not lost in six games on the Continent stretching back to Matchday One – the longest undefeated run of the remaining sides.
However, Al Wahda continue to chase their first-ever win in the knockout rounds, having now played seven games. Eliminated in the last eight in 2004, the Emirati team then reached the semi-finals in 2007 on the back of a pair of draws against Al Nassr’s city rivals Al Hilal.
While a scoreless draw on Monday would again see Al Wahda through to the semi-finals, their form at home has been superb, with three wins from three and 11 goals scored. There would be no better time than the present to break their winless streak.
Mission impossible for Al Ahli?
Leading 2-1 at half-time against domestic rivals Al Hilal in the first leg, things were looking rosy for Al Ahli, before the wheels came off in the second half as the Riyadh side – inspired by hat-trick hero Bafetimbi Gomis – ran out 4-2 winners.
Al Ahli must now do what only one team has done before in the AFC Champions League, score at least three goals against Al Hilal in Riyadh. At the same time, they must keep one of the tournament’s most dangerous frontlines, led by Gomis, quiet.
6' GOAL!! @Alhilal_EN 1-0!!— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) August 6, 2019
Omar Al Somah with yet another goal for Al Ahli in this season's @TheAFCCL! His seventh of the current campaign, but perhaps the most important one yet! #ACL2019 #AHLvHIL pic.twitter.com/77DMCpuJzK
Key to an unlikely success could be Abdulfattah Asiri, the midfielder who created a weekly high six chances, including assisting both his side's goals, before being withdrawn midway through the second half.
Should Asiri be in similar form then he has the perfect striker ahead of him to take advantage, with seven-goal Omar Al Soma among the best in Asia. Ulsan Hyundai ran out 4-0 winners in Riyadh in October 2012 before going on to to beat Al Ahli in the final – the Jeddah side must now achieve a similar feat.
Xavi's team of champions to prevail?
Xavi’s managerial career got underway with a 1-1 draw against Al Duhail, a satisfactory result for the Qatar Stars League champions given that they return to Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium with an away goal under their belts.
In arguably the toughest match to call of the Round 16, nearly all of Al Sadd’s players have experience of winning the biggest tournaments.
While an impressive four of the 14 players who got game time for Al Duhail last week played in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final against Japan, all seven of Al Sadd’s local starters appeared against the East Asians.
Add to that the fact Baghdad Bounedjah recently scored the winning goal for Algeria in the 2019 African Cup of Nations final and that skipper Gabi captained the Atletico Madrid team that won a La Liga title ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid before rounding off his career in the Spanish capital with the UEFA Europa League, then it is clear Al Sadd boast winners aplenty.
Then there’s the head coach, Xavi, who is one of the most decorated players in world football having won almost every honour he has competed for. The AFC Champions League remains one that he has yet to get his hands on, something his team of champions could help rectify.
Can Hadadifar inspire Zobahan?
Back in 2010 Zobahan produced their best-ever run in the AFC Champions League when they reached the final before defeat to Korea Republic’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, having earlier eliminated Monday’s opponents Al Ittihad in the group stage.
Captaining the side in that final was the long-serving midfielder Ghasem Hadadifar, who, still going strong at 36, opened the scoring in last week's first leg with a sumptuous curling free-kick before Al Ittihad came back to deal the Iranian side a first defeat of the campaign.
💥 The #ACL2019 Allianz Goal of the Week is back!— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) August 8, 2019
🎯 Hadadifar’s free-kick
👀 Afif wrong-footing Lecomte
🔥 Hamdallah’s diving header
👏 Msakni returning in style
Vote for your favourite 👉 https://t.co/fzd7meQjHF pic.twitter.com/ADVx6DRKRH
Trailing 2-1 going into the return meeting in Doha, there remains all to play for, particularly as Hadadifar’s strike in Dubai counts as an away goal – despite the game being played on neutral ground.
No team in the West has kept more clean sheets than Zobahan’s three, meanwhile, and if they could make that four, another little bit of magic from their Isfahan-born skipper could help them reach a first quarter-final since 2011.
Race for top scorer award heating up
Despite the remaining teams in East Asia having played a game more in the 2019 AFC Champions League, the top three scorers are all from the West. Leonardo leads the way on nine, while Gomis and Al Soma are two back on seven.
The trio all registered in the first legs, with Gomis’ treble seeing the imposing striker gain ground on Leonardo, whose four goals against Al Rayyan in the group stage helped ensure he has a great chance of claiming the accolade come November.
With Al Ahli facing a mountain to climb, Al Soma’s hopes of staying in the hunt could largely depend on whether he scores the goals to pull off an unlikely result in Riyadh. If he can’t, the race for the Golden Boot could well be between the Brazilian and the Frenchman.
Leonardo would probably not have been most people’s top scorer tip prior to the campaign, but goals in five of the six games he has played are proof he has what it takes. If he can help fire Al Wahda past Al Nassr, the 27-year-old will be in the driving seat. If not, ‘The Lion’ could be ready to pounce.
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