AFC - Al Ahli and Persepolis go into the second leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-final at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday with the tie tantalisingly poised after the sides played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in last month’s first leg.
After letting a two-goal lead slip in the first leg, Al Ahli will look for a positive response as they aim to return to the semi-finals for the first time since 2012, when they eventually finished as runners-up to Korea Republic’s Ulsan Hyundai.
The Jeddah-based side have been in fine form this year, advancing from a group that comprised Al Ain, Zobahan and Bunyodkor, before seeing off namesakes Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates in the Round of 16.
With striker Omar Al Soma, fresh from leading Syria to the play-off stage of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and the recently acquired Brazilian Leonardo both netting in the first game against Persepolis, Sergei Rebrov’s team look well equipped to challenge for the continent’s top club honour once more.
Elsewhere, Claudemir is another new Brazilian signing who arrived after spending two seasons at Club Brugge in Belgium, while captain Taiseer Al Jassam should return after helping Saudi Arabia progress to a first FIFA World Cup since 2006.
Persepolis are enjoying their best-ever run in the AFC Champions League after reaching the quarter-finals for the first time and the evidence from the first leg shows they are not going to let it end without a fight.
Two goals down with 20 minutes to play, Shojae Khalilzadeh and substitute Godwin Mensha netted to force a 2-2 draw and to set up a mouthwatering return fixture in Abu Dhabi.
All eyes will be on striker Mehdi Taremi, who scored six times in Group D as Persepolis finished runners-up behind Al Hilal but ahead of Al Rayyan and Al Wahda, before they overcame Lekhwiya in the last 16.
The Iranian international forward has not found the back of the net since the group stage, but the arrival of Nigerian Mensha and the presence of Ali Alipour and Vahid Amiri goes some way towards easing the burden on the prolific marksman. Captain Jalal Hosseini, meanwhile, returns from suspension.
Ones To Watch: First Leg Stats
Al Ahli vs Persepolis
Venue: Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Kick-off: September 12, 19:15 UTC+4:00