ACLSaudi Arabia’s Al Hilal will face Iran’s Persepolis in front of a cauldron of noise at the Azadi Stadium on Tuesday’s as last year’s finalists travel to Tehran for the first leg of their AFC Champions League Round of 16 tie.
Al Hilal sealed a return to the knockout stage as Group C winners following a 2-1 win over Qatar’s Al Sadd in the final round of group fixtures earlier this month.
And the two-time Asian champions will now travel to Tehran where Group A runners-up Persepolis will look to add to a 100% record at home this season, with the three wins achieved in front of an average of 72,000 fans.
“Although we made some mistakes against Al Sadd, I have full confidence in my players and they will fix these mistakes,” said Al Hilal coach Giorgos Donis following the victory in Riyadh a fortnight ago.
“We showed good strength against Al Sadd and we hope that we can continue our good performances in the next game to come.”
Striker Nassir Al Shamrani will, however, again be absent for Al Hilal due to suspension.
Persepolis, meanwhile, have shaken off their domestic troubles when playing in the AFC Champions League and in their last two home ties beat two-time Saudi champions Al Nassr and Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor in front of capacity 100,000 crowds.
The Iran Pro League side also beat local rivals Esteghlal 1-0 at home in Friday’s final domestic outing of the campaign, which earned Branko Ivankovic’s side an eighth place finish.
Ivankovic’s side have appeared in the Round of 16 twice in 2012 and 2009, but have yet to reach the quarter-finals in four previous AFC Champions League appearances.
“We were in the toughest group alongside the Saudi Arabian champions, Qatari champion and the best team in Uzbekistan,” said Ivankovic, who succeeded 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, 2011 winners Al Sadd and domestic league champions Lekhwiya, who successfully defended their title under Danish coach Michael Laudrup, face off in all-Qatari tie.
Former quarter-finalists Lekhwiya sealed top spot in Group A with a 3-1 win over Al Nassr in Riyadh which secured just their second appearance in the knockout stage, while Group C runners-up Al Sadd will be playing in the second phase of the competition for the fourth time.
Al Sadd midfielder Jasser Medany, though, is suspended for the first meeting between the domestic rivals.
In the East, K-League Classic champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will entertain Beijing Guoan with Choi Kang-hee’s side hosting the Chinese Super League side in Jeonju in the first leg.
Jeonbuk, who won the 2006 AFC Champions League title, secured their place in the Round of 16 as Group E runners-up after comfortably defeating China’s Shandong Luneng 4-1 at Jeonju World Cup Stadium earlier this month.
Gregorio Manzano’s Beijing side topped Group G ahead of Korea’s Suwon Samsung after sharing a 1-1 draw with the two-time Asian champions two weeks ago, although midfielder Piao Cheng is suspended for the first leg.
The final fixture in the first round of knockout ties sees Suwon, winners of the Asian Club Championship in both 2001 and 2002, entertain former semi-finalists and Group E winners Kashiwa Reysol from Japan.
Having qualified for the group stage via the play-offs, Kashiwa have advanced from the first phase in each of their three appearances in the AFC Champions League and reached the semi-finals in 2013.
Suwon, meanwhile, are returning to the knockout stage for the first time since 2011 when they were edged out in the semi-finals by eventual winners Al Sadd.
CAPTION – Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal will face Iran’s Persepolis in the first leg of their AFC Champions League Round of 16 tie having won Group C ahead of Qatar’s Al Sadd.
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