Muscat: It will be a clash of two of West Asia's most popular teams when Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli take on Persepolis of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the quarter-finals of the 2017 AFC Champions League on Tuesday night in the capital of the Omani Sultanate.
Tehran giants Persepolis will look to make a long-awaited mark on the Asian level when they take to the pitch against Al Ahli. While the club did reach the semi-finals of the Asian Club Championship in 1997, 1998 and 2001, they failed to reach the quarter-finals of the revamped AFC Champions League before this year's edition.
The 2017 campaign saw Persepolis successfully navigate a tough group featuring Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s Al Rayyan and Emirati club Al Wahda. Finishing second in the group, they took on Doha side Lekhwiya in the Round of 16.
After a goalless first leg, it would take an own goal from Lekhwiya defender Chico Flores in the second leg to take Persepolis to the quarter-finals.
Persepolis have one man to thank in particular for getting this far in the competition and that is IR Iran striker Mehdi Taremi. Despite not scoring in the previous round, the 24-year old has struck six times so far and sits in second place in the scoring charts behind Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman.
The focus will turn to Taremi once again as the club aim to conquer further ground in Asia.
Although Al Ahli have never won an Asian title, they were the first Saudi club to reach the final of the Asian Club Championship, back in 1985.
In the title decider, the Jeddah-based club lost to Daewoo Royals of Korea Republic. A similar fate ensued when Al Ahli made their second appearance in a continental final with their 2012 AFC Champions League run, only to lose to another Korean side – Ulsan Hyundai.
Since that disappointment, Al Ahli have not made it past the quarter-finals. This year, Al Ahli will attempt to correct that record.
After finishing second in Group C behind Al Ain, Al Ahli faced their namesakes from the United Arab Emirates, who were runners-up in the 2015 edition.
Prolific front man Omar Al Soma was unavailable for both ties of the Round of 16 fixture due to injury, but the Saudi side managed to register a convincing 4-2 aggregate victory.
Syrian striker Al Soma is now back in the squad and will be ready to lead Al Ahli's attack once again after scoring four times in the group stage.
His scoring prowess is well-known and, recently, he was honoured by the club for finishing as top scorer for the last three seasons - which should serve as motivation ahead of the big continental clash.