With the last four of AFC Champions League 2019 set to be decided, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan takes a look at the 4 Big Questions ahead of the quarter-final second-leg action.
And soon, there will be just four contenders remaining.
AFC Champions League 2019 edges closer to its finale this week as the quarter-finals conclude and the lineup for the last four is decided.
Will the East boast the champions again for a 7th consecutive year? Or will the West finally prevail with winners from Saudi Arabia, who have three representatives still in the running?
Here, FOX Sports Asia previews the upcoming action by asking the four most-important questions.
CAN AL SADD OVERTURN DEFICIT TO PREVENT SAUDI ARABIAN DOMINANCE?
It has already been an excellent campaign for the Saudi Professional League as they boast three of the four West Zone quarter-finalists, and are looking to make it an all-Saudi Arabia semi-final.
The only ones who can prevent that are Qatari giants Al Sadd, and even then, they have a deficit to overcome after losing to Al Nassr 2-1 in the first leg.
Al Sadd have plenty of firepower to call upon but their problem is that some of their big guns have failed to fire in the ACL this season, with the usually-prolific Baghdad Bounedjah and Akram Afif combining for just five goals so far.
Unless new coach Xavi can get them firing, Al Nassr might just be the first team to progress into the semis on Monday evening.
WILL HULK ABSENCE PROVE COSTLY FOR SHANGHAI SIPG?
Urawa Red Diamonds came away with two potentially-valuable goals in a 2-2 first-leg draw with Shanghai SIPG, so they will have reason to be confident heading into Tuesday’s tie at Saitama Stadium 2002.
And, in a real boost to their chances, their opponents will be without talismanic forward Hulk, who will miss the second leg through suspension.
He netted both their goals in the earlier encounter – albeit from penalties – but has proven on numerous occasions so far in the campaign that he can singlehandedly bail his team out from a tricky situation, and will certainly be a big loss.
With Marko Arnautovic failing to replicate his impressive domestic form in his ACL debut last time out, it will be down to Oscar – who has been in sparkling form – to lead the way for SIPG.
WILL AL ITTIHAD BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND AL HILAL BARRAGE ONCE MORE?
Although they enjoyed home advantage in the first leg, Al Ittihad found themselves on the receiving end of an Al Hilal barrage but were somehow able to escape with a 0-0 draw, despite enjoying just 38 per cent possession and having their goal peppered with 22 shots.
Heading to the King Saud University Stadium on Tuesday, Al Ittihad are unlikely to enjoy such a charmed life again so the conundrum now is to decide between adopting a defensive setup or actually taking the game to the opposition.
Interestingly enough, they are the competition’s top scorers at the moment with 19 goals, so they do have it in them to really pose some problems but have also conceded 13.
Al Hilal boast seven-goal Bafetimbi Gomis and a host of other dangerous attacking options so Al Ittihad have reason to be wary, but they would not want to be left rueing an unnecessarily tentative approach.
ARE PLUCKY KASHIMA ANTLERS HEADED FOR BACK-TO-BACK TITLES?
Considering defending champions Kashima Antlers have not exactly fired on all cylinders after losing a host of key players, it is impressive that they remain on course to repeat their success in 2018.
In fact, they might even head into Wednesday’s tie at the Kashima Soccer Stadium believing they have a slight advantage after holding Guangzhou Evergrande to a 0-0 draw in China three weeks ago.
Even though they have bid farewell to the likes of Yuma Suzuki, Gen Shoji and Hiroki Abe since last year’s triumph, Kashima continue to find a way to keep moving forward.
After last year’s disappointment of relinquishing their Chinese Super League crown to SIPG, Evergrande are a side desperate to make amends this year and – having added deadly striker Elkeson to their ranks – are proving to be the Antlers’ toughest test yet.