Kuala Lumpur: After almost three months and five pulsating rounds of fixtures, the final Matchday of the 2017 AFC Champions League Group Stage is finally upon us with five remaining Round of 16 qualification spots in the West still up for grabs.
Al Ain, Al Hilal and Lekhwiya all secured their places in the next phase two weeks ago and no fewer than 11 teams are still in the hunt to join the trio as the continental competition advances rapidly towards the knockout rounds.
West Zone teams already through to the Round of 16:
Lekhwiya – Group B - assured of finishing top Al Ain – Group C - assured of finishing in the top two Al Hilal – Group D – assured of finishing in the top two
Zobahan began Matchday Five with the chance to book their spot in the last 16 with a game to spare but a 3-0 home reversal to Al Ain in Group C saw the Emirati team leapfrog their Iranian opponents to instead seal their place in the next round.
That loss means Zobahan now have to claim all three points against second-placed Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia on Monday in order to progress, while Al Ahli need a point to advance and still have a chance of winning the group should Al Ain slip up against Bunyodkor.
The Uzbek side were already eliminated by the time a 2-0 victory over Al Ahli two weeks ago saw them wrap up a first win in 19 on the continent and they will now look to follow that result up with another positive performance in Al Ain, who are hot favourites to top the table.
Al Ahli (KSA) v Zobahan (IRN) PREVIEW Venue: Thani Bin Jassim Stadium, Doha Kick-off: May 8, 18:40 UTC+3
Al Ain (UAE) v Bunyodkor (UZB) PREVIEW Venue: Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain Kick-off: May 8, 19:40 UTC+4
Al Rayyan will leapfrog already qualified Al Hilal to top Group D if they win at home against the Saudi side on Monday, while both Persepolis and Al Wahda can overhaul second-placed Al Rayyan should the Qatari side lose and either team picks up three points when they face off in Tehran.
Al Hilal’s point against Persepolis two weeks ago ensured their place in the last 16, but defeat to Al Rayyan – who suffered a 5-1 reversal at Al Wahda to slip from top spot – would see the Qatari side return to the summit and advance to the knockout stages for the first time.
Persepolis will hope Al Rayyan fail to win and enable them to clinch the runners-up place with victory over bottom side Al Wahda. However, the Emiratis’ convincing scoreline against the Qataris – their first win of the campaign – means a victory coupled with Al Hilal overcoming Al Rayyan would see the Abu Dhabi outfit grab the second qualifying spot at the death.
Al Rayyan (QAT) v Al Hilal (KSA) PREVIEW Venue: Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha Kick-off: May 8, 18:25 UTC+3
Persepolis (IRN) v Al Wahda (UAE) PREVIEW Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran Kick-off: May 8 19:55 UTC+4:30