Al Ain were drawn on Wednesday against Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in the Asian Champions League quarter-finals, in a match that will see the sides replay the 2005 final.
Al Ain are in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2006, and while Al Ittihad won successive titles in 2004-05, they have found a third continental championship elusive since, losing the 2009 final and bowing out in the semi-finals in 2011 and 2012. The sides’ quarter-finals meeting will be their first in the competition since the 2005 final.
In the other West Asia pairing, Al Sadd, who won the tournament in 2011, were drawn against another Saudi club, Al Hilal.
In the East, Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande were drawn against Australian newcomers Western Sydney Wanderers as they bid to become only the second team, after Al Ittihad, to retain the trophy.
The Chinese champions received what appeared a kindly draw against Wanderers, who have been the tournament’s surprise package in their run to the last eight on debut.
The other eastern zone tie, drawn at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, pitches last year’s runners-up FC Seoul into a daunting derby clash against Korean double winners Pohang Steelers when the competition resumes in August.
In 2005 Al Ain were defeated 5-3 on aggregate. They won the 2003 final – the first of the AFC Champions League era after it was rebranded from the Asian Club Championship – 2-1 on aggregate over Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana. The Garden City club are still the only UAE side to have reached Asia’s most elite final.
Al Ain finished a disappointing sixth in the Arabian Gulf League this season, but after the sacking of Quique Sanchez Flores and appointment of Zlatko Dalic as manager, they’ve surged in the Asian Champions League and won the UAE President’s Cup.
They dispatched UAE rivals Al Jazira in the round of 16, winning 4-2 on aggregate as World Cup-bound Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan broke a 2-2 draw with a second-half double in the second leg. His 10 goals altogether lead the tournament so far.
Holders Guangzhou, After hitting form in their 5-1 away victory over Japan’s Cerezo Osaka in the last 16, face an intriguing challenge from Wanderers, who were formed just two years ago.
Coached by former Socceroo Tony Popovic, they topped their group and recovered from a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the last 16 to become only the second Australian club after Adelaide United to reach the quarter-finals.
Korean sides have appeared in the last five AFC Champions League finals and one is assured of reaching the semis this year after Seoul were drawn against Pohang.
But while Seoul contested the last final, it is Pohang who are the team in form. The 2009 Asian champions lead the K-League Classic table and they beat Seoul, who are currently ninth, 1-0 in April.
The west and east regions are kept apart until the final, meaning Al Ain, should they win, will face either Al Hilal or Al Sadd in the semis while Guangzhou or Western Sydney will meet Seoul or Pohang in the east.
The final will be played over two legs on October 25 and November 1, with the second leg to be hosted by the western team.
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