Al Ain have been in top form over the past few months and will be favourites against Al Ahli in Wednesday’s clash. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Al Ain have been in top form over the past few months and will be favourites against Al Ahli in Wednesday’s clash. Marwan Naamani / AFP

Al Ain looking good in all-UAE last-16 clash in Asian Champions League

Two West Asian Champions League last-16 fixtures will ensure Qatari and Emirati participation in the quarter-finals of this year’s competition.

Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain face bitter rivals Al Ahli on Wednesday for a place in the last eight, with both coming off the back of confident wins in the domestic President’s Cup competition.

Al Ain put on a performance befitting their status as the country’s champions with a 5-0 hammering of Dibba Al Fujairah, while Al Ahli progressed courtesy of a 2-0 win over Kalba.

Michael Laudrup’s Qatar Stars League winners Lekhwiya will eye a better outcome against Al Sadd, winners of this competition in 2011, on Tuesday night, having lost 2-0 to them in the Prince Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

Two-time champions Al Hilal face a daunting opener, traveling to Tehran to play a Persepolis side that boasted a 100 per cent winning record and an average crowd of 72,000 at their Tehran home in the group stage of the tournament.

The first of the knockout stages is a home-and-away format featuring four South Korean teams, including two-time Asian champions Seongnam, who host 2013 winners Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday.

Western Sydney Wanderers were eliminated despite winning at Evergrande on the last night of group-stage matches, while 2014 runners-up Al Hilal advanced as winners of Group C.

Al Hilal will again be without star striker Nasser Al Shamrani due to suspension for the match at Azadi Stadium in the Iranian capital on Tuesday night, when Persepolis will aim to use home advantage to set up a run to the quarter-finals for the first time.

Persepolis, who beat Al Nassr and Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor in front of capacity 100,000 crowds during the group stage, have twice qualified for the round of 16 but never reached the last eight.

“We were in the toughest group alongside the Saudi Arabian champions, Qatari champion and the best team in Uzbekistan,” said former Al Wahda manager Branko Ivankovic, who replaced Hamid Derakhshan as Persepolis coach during the group stage.

“We have the same chance against Al Hilal, who I believe are a better team than Al Nassr. I’m completely satisfied with my players’ performances so far and I’m proud of them.”

Also on Tuesday night, in the east, K-League champions Jeonbuk host Beijing Guoan at Jeonju and two-time continental champions Suwon Bluewings will be at home to Kashiwa Reysol.

Seongnam are coming off a loss in the group stage to Gamba Osaka and will have to be at their peak when they host Chinese Super League champions Evergrande, who reached the knockout stage for the fourth consecutive year by topping a challenging group containing 2014 winners Western Sydney and 2013 finalists FC Seoul.

“We were in a tough group and qualified with one round left and I am very happy with it,” Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro said. “We’ve been through lots of change this season and overcame many difficulties, but still we managed to qualify as the winner of the group.

“But at last I think if we can show our quality.”

Seoul, who are without suspended defender Osmar Barba for the game against Gamba Osaka on Wedneday, advanced with a last-minute winner from Colombian midfielder Mauricio Molina against Kashima Antlers two weeks ago.

In the western division, Iran’s Naft Tehran will attempt to pick themselves up from the disappointment of just missing out on a first Iranian league title when they host Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli.

Naft finished on the wrong side of one of the most exciting title races in the Iranian league on Friday after they fought back with two late goals to draw 3-3 with Tractor Sazi in a final-day clash between the top two.

But the comeback was not enough as the draw allowed third-placed Sepahan to sneak in and win the title by a point with a 2-0 win over Saipa.

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