Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande face Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday with the former winners looking to cement their place in the knockout stage, while the J.League side are under pressure to claim their first points of the campaign in Group H.
Following their action-packed encounter last month in southern China as Guangzhou edged a seven-goal thriller to maintain their 100% record, the 2013 champions are currently five points clear of defending champions Western Sydney Wanderers of Australia and 2013 runners-up FC Seoul.
Kashima, though, are a further four points off the pace after also losing to Western Sydney and FC Seoul and Toninho Cerezo’s side are in danger of missing out on securing a place in the last 16 for the first time since 2011.
“Although we lost the game, we were able to give a good match and play beautiful football. This is the charm of the sport: even if you don’t win you can give good matches,” said Cerezo following the 4-3 defeat in China a fortnight ago.
“I didn’t see any big differences between my players and the Guangzhou players. We just couldn’t convert our chances into goals so we may need some good strikers.”
Also in Group H, Western Sydney entertain FC Seoul after the pair shared a goalless draw in Korea Republic a fortnight ago.
In the West, Group B sees pacesetters Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates take on second place Pakhtakor.
Inaugural winners Al Ain won 1-0 at Pakhtakor Stadium last month to move a point clear at the top of the table, although Zlatko Dalic’s side will be without their goalscorer in Tashkent as Slovakia winger Miroslav Stoch is suspended along with midfielder Ahmed Barman.
“All the teams have an equal chance now and I think all will be decided on the last match day,” said Al Ain coach Dalic after the Matchday Three victory a fortnight ago.
“We will prepare well for the next matches; we want to get to at least the semi-finals as we did last year.”
Also on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab entertain Iran’s Naft Tehran although the home side will be without suspended defender Amer Harun.
In Group F, bottom side Gamba Osaka will take on undefeated leaders Buriram United of Thailand, with the Japanese champions needing to secure maximum points to claw back some of the six point margin that separates the two sides.
Having only scored once in their three group matches this season, former champions Gamba are further hampered by the suspension of Brazilian forward Patric, a pivotal member of their treble-winning side in 2014.
The 2008 AFC Champions League winners did, however, gain their first point of the competition against Buriram last month and can take heart from an improved performance following back-to-back defeats to China’s Guangzhou R&F and Seongnam FC of Korea Republic, who meet in Tuesday’s earlier Group F tie.
Finally in Group D, frontrunners Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia travel to Iran to face Tractorsazi Tabriz looking to build on last month’s 2-0 win over Antonio Oliveira’s side, while Uzbekistan’s Nasaf host the UAE’s Al Ahli following their stalemate in Dubai in Matchday Three.
Emirati club Al Ahli, though, will be without goalkeeper Majed Naser, defender Salmin Khamis and midfielder Ismail Al Hammadi due to suspension.
CAPTION – Leaders Guangzhou Evergrande take on Japan’s Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday with the 2013 winners out to maintain their 100% record in Group H.