Asian Champions League 2006
KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabian giants Al Ittihad will be up against tough Syrian opposition as they go for a treble in the AFC Champions League after the two-time champions were slotted against surprise package of the tournament Al Karameh in the knockout stage draw held on Friday here at the AFC House.
Al Ittihad gained automatic entry into the last eight of the continent’s premier club tournament after a 5-3 aggregate win over the UAE’s Al Ain in last year’s final.
They will be looking to make home advantage count when they take on Al Karameh, who are also the Syrian League champions, in Jeddah on September 13. The return match is scheduled for September 20.
“I don’t think our road to the semifinals will be easy,” said Al Ittihad manager Hamad Al Sanae’a after the draw. “All the teams are strong otherwise they wouldn’t have made it to the quarterfinals.”
“But I hope the final will be between two West Asian teams like last year.”
For the President of Al Karameh, Nasouh Al Barodi, the match-up against Al Ittihad was a cause for concern. “It will be very tough for us as they are the two-time defending champions,” said Al Barodi. “I wish we could have met another club in the quarterfinal.”
The format of the draw keeps clubs from the same country separated in the quarterfinals and the other Saudi Arabian team which has qualified for the last eight, Al Shabab, were paired against Ulsan Hyundai of Korea Republic.
Al Shabab, who won the Saudi League title recently, play away to Ulsan, who didn’t concede a single goal against Tokyo Verdy in their Group F campaign.
Last year’s losing finalists and 2003 champions Al Ain, who will be appearing in the knockout stage for the third straight time, were pitted against Kuwaiti powerhouse Al Qadsiya.
Al Ain, who topped Group B, will play the first match away in Kuwait City against Al Qadsiya, who finished on top of Group A.
“Our match against Al Ain will be very difficult as they have qualified for all the knockout stages so far,” said Al Qadsiya manager Sami Abu Yabes. “They are going through a rough patch but one can expect them to bounce back.”
“But our chances are equal,” added the Al Qadsiya official.
His counterpart Essam Abdullah Al Ali said Al Ain’s vast experience would prove to be decisive. “Our experience in this tournament should stand us in good stead. I think all our fans are waiting for us to reach the final. This is a good chance for us to redeem ourselves for last year’s defeat to Al Ittihad.”
Jeonbuk Motors, winners of Group E, set up an all-East clash with Shanghai Shenhua of China in the second quarterfinal.
The two-legged semifinals will be played on September 27 and October 18 and if Al Ittihad see off Al Karameh’s challenge they meet the winner of the Al Qadsiya-Al Ain match in the last four at home, leaving open the possibility of a repeat of last year’s final.
The winner of the Shanghai Shenhua-Jeonbuk game goes up against either Ulsan or Al Shabab for a place in the final which takes place on November 1 and 8.
Al Ittihad (KSA) vs Al Karameh (Syr)
Shanghai Shenhua (Chn) vs Jeonbuk (Kor)
Al Qadsiya (Kuw) vs Al Ain (UAE)
Ulsan (Kor) vs Al Shabab (KSA)
First leg – 13 September
Second leg – 20 September
First leg – 27 September
Second leg – 18 October
First leg – 1 November
Second leg – 8 November