FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan previews the AFC Champions League 2019 quarter-finals ahead of this week’s first-leg action.
It took almost two months to finalise but the quarter-final lineup in AFC Champions League 2019 is set.
Four competitors remain in the East and West Zones, including six former champions that combine for 11 titles.
Here, FOX Sports Asia looks ahead to the tantalising ties that await this week.
CAN AL SADD STAND UP TO SAUDI ARABIAN DOMINATION?
Al Sadd did well to reach the last four in 2018 and they will have to do it again in order to prevent an all-Saudi Arabia semi-final.
With Al Ittihad and Al Hilal facing off in the other West Zone quarter-final, Al Sadd visit Al Nassr on Monday looking to fly the flag for Qatar.
Spanish legend Xavi is newly installed at the helm and his reign got off well with a 4-2 aggregate triumph over Al Duhail in the Round of 16, which has since been followed by two consecutive wins on the domestic front.
AFC Champions League 2019: Al Sadd SC 2-0 Al Duhail SC (Abdelkarim Hassan 34′)
Al Sadd continue to boast a formidable team including in-form Qatar internationals Akram Afif and Abdulkarim Hassan, along with experienced imports Baghdad Bounedjah, Gabi, Nam Tae-hee and Jung Woo-young.
Al Nassr, led by the likes of Abderrazak Hamdallah and Giuliano, have impressed so far in the campaign but will arguably face their toughest test yet on Monday.
IS 2019 FINALLY THE YEAR FOR SHANGHAI SIPG?
Since their emergence as giants of the Chinese Super League, Shanghai SIPG have regularly been viewed as contenders in the AFC Champions League but have thus far flattered to deceive.
Regarded by many as favourites last year, SIPG were eliminated by eventual champions Kashima Antlers and are once more up against Japanese opposition in the form of Urawa Red Diamonds.
AFC Champions League 2019: Ulsan Hyundai 0-2 Urawa Red Diamonds (Shinzo Koroki 80′)
Urawa have performed consistently without being spectacular as they look for a repeat of their 2017 triumph, and are almost the opposite of their upcoming opponents with less-famous names who nonetheless are seasoned campaigners with plenty to offer.
After finishing as runners-up to Guangzhou Evergrande twice in the previous three years, SIPG finally landed their hands on the CSL crown in 2018.
Could they go one better and claim continental success this year?
ARE AL ITTIHAD ON VERGE OF REDISCOVERING GLORY DAYS?
Al Ittihad remain the only club in the ACL era – which began in 2002 – to win back-to-back titles, but it has now been 14 years since they were champions of Asia.
In fact, they did not even manage to qualify for the competition in four of the last six editions but are back with a vengeance in 2019.
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They are currently the tournament’s top scorers with 19 goals and boast a variety of avenues to finding the back of the net.
Standing in between them and a place in the semi-finals are fellow two-time champions Al Hilal, who came so close to success two years ago but lost the final to Urawa.
Al Hilal may not have been as prolific as their compatriots but boast a genuine attacking force in Bafetimbi Gomis, who could prove an absolute handful for the Al Ittihad defence on Tuesday.
WILL KASHIMA ANTLERS CONTINUE TO SURPRISE AGAINST EVERGRANDE?
If last season’s triumph had been a surprise but deserved victory, even reaching this far this year has already been a similar achievement – especially considering how many key players they have lost since.
Centre-backs Gen Shoji and Naomichi Ueda have long departed for Europe, while star man Yuma Suzuki also recently joined them having played no part at all for the Antlers in 2019 due to injury.
Still, they have soldiered on courtesy of the efforts from players like Serginho, Shoma Doi and Tomoya Inukai.
In another Japan-China duel in the East Zone, their next opponents are an Evergrande outfit determined to reassert their authority on both the domestic and continental fronts after their first season without a major trophy since 2010 – when they first won promotion to the CSL.
🔙 🏠 | Elkeson returns to @GZEvergrandeFC, the side he won 2⃣ AFC Champions League titles!
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) July 9, 2019
Evergrande’s chances have been boosted by the return of Elkeson, and he has already netted seven goals in as many games since returning from a three-and-a-half year stint with rivals SIPG.