Riyadh: After the first leg of the AFC Champions League quarter-final between Al Ain and Al Hilal ended goalless in the United Arab Emirates last month, the sides face off again in the second leg on Monday with everything to play for.
Al Hilal are still searching for an elusive triumph in the AFC Champions League after winning its precursor, the Asian Club Championship, in 1991 and 2000. The Riyadh giants came agonisingly close three years ago, when they suffered a narrow 1-0 aggregate defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers in the final.
The Saudi side are undefeated in the 2017 edition, having topped Group D ahead of Persepolis, Al Rayyan and Al Wahda. A place in the quarter-finals was then secured with a 4-2 aggregate win over Esteghlal Khouzestan in the Round of 16.
Omar Khribin could prove to be the key man for Al Hilal, having scored four goals in the competition so far. The Syrian striker had an effort ruled out for offside in the first leg and will be looking to make amends this time round.
Brazilian Carlos Eduardo is also a potential game changer, while Nawaf Al Abed is in fine form coming into the game after helping Saudi Arabia secure a first FIFA World Cup qualification since 2006.
The club from the Garden City reached the AFC Champions League final twice in its first three editions and were crowned inaugural champions in 2003 before losing out in 2005. Al Ain fans then underwent a long wait before finally seeing their team return to the showpiece match last season, where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of Korea Republic.
Al Ain topped Group C with an unbeaten record ahead of Al Ahli, Bunyodkor and Zobahan, before suffering a first defeat of the campaign after a 1-0 Round of 16 first leg loss to Esteghlal. However, the Emirati side came storming back to claim a resounding 6-1 second-leg win to advance 6-2 on aggregate.
Coach Zoran Mamic will be pleased to have reigning AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman available for selection on Monday after he picked up an ankle injury in the first leg.
The tournament’s joint-top scorer with seven goals is key to Al Ain's fortunes, but with a frontline containing Brazilians Douglas and Caio as well as Sweden’s Markus Berg, Al Hilal will have more than just the inspirational playmaker to concern themselves with.
Suspensions: Salman Al Faraj, Abdullah Otayf, Abdullah Al Hafith (Al Hilal); Khaled Abdulrahman, Mohanad Salem (Al Ain)
Al Hilal vs Al Ain Venue: King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh Kick-off: September 11, 20:00 UTC+3:00