| Gulf News- UAE league champions Al Wahda begin their tough task in the quarterfinals of the Asian Clubs Championship (West Zone) when they face off against Iran's Al Estighlal tonight. |
The kickoff is at 8:05 pm. This crucial encouner means a great deal to all four participants in the competition which also includes Kuwait Club of Kuwait and Nasaf Karsi of Uzbekistan.
The day's proceedings starts at 5:35 pm with Kuwait meeting Nasaf Karsi in the first match of the day. Four teams fight for two semifinal seats against their counterparts from the East Zone.
Al Wahda and Estighlal are favourites to reach the second round. The league champions have the advantages of playing at home. The Iranian club has a rich history and strength in this championship.
Al Wahda reached this phase after beating Iraq's Al Zawraa in a penalty shootout. They drew both the matches held in Doha and Amman last year. Estighlal beat Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia on the away goal rule. They lost 2-3 in Jeddah before winning 2-1 in Tehran.
Both teams have a lot of outstanding players in their ranks. Al Wahda boast of having eight UAE international players who joined the team on Saturday after returning from the Gulf Cup.
They are Hussain Ali, the custodian who is expected to vacate his place, due to injury, for understudy Ramadan Mallullah, Basheer Saeed, the left full back, Abdulla Salim the sweeper, Abdul Salam Jumaa, Abdul Rahim Jumaa, Fahad Massoud, Hayder Allo Ali, all midfielders and Yasir Salim the striker in addition to Qatar's striker Mohammed Salim Al Enazy, Tunisian attacker Fawzi Al Ruwaisi and Sierra Leone midfielder Mohammed Conteh.
The international stars of Al Wahda will be joined by defenders Abdul Aziz Ahmed, Al Hay Jumaa, Ismail Rashid, Salim Zayed and Salim Mohammed Salim. Midfielders Tawfig Abdul Razag, Ismail Matar, Adib Obaid and others are also expected to do duty.
Estighlal is one of two famous Iranian teams that have great achievements for their country's football. The other team are their traditional rivals Perouzi.
They have provided outstanding players for the national teams that reached the World Cup finals in 1998 and lost the Asian-European play off this time against Ireland.
The Iranians have won the Asian Cup thrice and are regarded as a powerhouse in the continent whether at clubs or national level.
Estighlal have won the Asian title in 1990, they lost in the final in 1991 to Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia. Estighlal also lost last year's final to Japanese club Jubilo Iwata. They have a good line up of talented players like Farzad Majidi, Serous Dinmohammedi, Periz Pourmand, the custodian.
In addition they have other famous stars in Tehran, including their professional Rufat Guliyev from Azerbaijan.
The match promises to be entertaining as it might shape the leadership of the competition in its earliest phase.
Kuwait, led by their striker Faraj Laheeb will meet Nasaf Karsi earlier in the day. Both teams aim to win the three points on offer in order to gain promotion to the next round.
Kuwait have in their ranks Sammi Al Shishini, the Egyptian professional defender and Senegelase striker Ndjai. Karsi are depending on an all Uzbek team.