The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup 2017 is slowly entering its business end in the West and ASEAN zones with the zonal semifinals looming large.
In the West Zone, Syria’s Al Wahda will take on Al Wehdat of Jordan in the first of the two-legged semifinal while defending champions Air Force Club are up against Al Zawra'a, also of Iraq. The victors of the semifinal bouts will clash in the Zonal final with the champion progressing directly to the AFC Cup Grand final.
Meanwhile, Philippine's Global FC will cross swords with Singapore's Home United in the first ASEAN Zonal semifinal while Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim are up against Philippine's Ceres Negros in the other semifinal. The winners of the ASEAN Zone final will progress to the Inter-Zonal semifinal where they will battle with the East, South and Central Zone winners for a spot in the AFC Cup Grand final.
WEST Zone Semifinals
Al Wahda (SYR) v Al Wehdat (JOR): Syrian side Al Wahda host Jordanians Al Wehdat on Tuesday in the first leg of the West Zone semifinals, looking for a positive result for them to take to the second leg in Amman. Al Wahda qualified to the semifinals as the best second-placed team across the three West Zone groups, thanks to a 6-0 hammering of Safa SC in the final Group B game. They had begun their campaign with two wins but the next three games only brought them two points, which left them requiring a win in the final game.
Al Wehdat, meanwhile, booked their spot in the semifinals after winning Group C outright. The Jordanians finished the group stages unbeaten, winning three and drawing the rest. All their wins have so far come at home while their away sojourns have only brought about draws. They will be eager to rectify it on Tuesday when they play Al Wahda away.
Captain Osama Omari has been Al Wahda's primary creative outlet, scoring two goals and creating 16 chances in the competition and Al Wehdat would do well to pay him close attention. For the Jordanians' main man will be Munther Abu Amara who has scored three goals and created a tournament-high 26 chances. This battle should make for a thrilling affair.
Venue: Sports City Stadium, Beirut
Kick-off: May 16, 15:30 UTC+3
Air Force Club (IRQ) vs Al Zawra'a (IRQ): Defending Champions Air Force Club take on Al Zawra'a in the other West Zone semifinal only on 22nd May and not this week. Air Force Club reached this stage after winning Group B outright after a 1-0 win over Al Hidd in the final group game. Though Air Force Club were unbeaten in the group stages, they had started with just the one win in four games but two victories to conclude the group has seen them win the group.
Fellow Iraqi side Al Zawra'a qualified after topping Group A. With three wins and three draws, they are also yet to taste a defeat in the tournament so far and makes for a compelling fight when they play Air Force Club.
Venue: Franso Hariri Stadium, Arbil
Kick-off: May 22, 20:30 UTC+5.30
ASEAN Zone semifinals
Global FC (PHI) v Home United (SIN): A place in the ASEAN Zone final awaits the victors of this two-legged semifinal as Global FC host Home United on Tuesday. Global FC have shown remarkable desire in getting to this stage and will be confident of putting it past the Singaporean outfit. The Philippine side did well to top a group that contained Malaysia Johor Darul Ta'zim and coach Toshiaki Imai will be quietly confident of his charges putting themselves in a strong position ahead of the second leg.
Meanwhile, Home United did not have to encounter such fierce foes in the three-team Group H. They overcame Myanmar's Yadanarbon and Vietnam's Thang Quang Ninh to book a spot in the Zonal semifinals. But with their Croatian forward Stipe Plazibat in a rich vein of form, having scored four goals already, they cannot be written off.
For Global FC, the men to watch for will be forwards Paul Mulders and Darryl Roberts.
Venue: Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila
Kick-off: May 16, 19:30 UTC+8
Johor Darul Ta'zim (MAS) vs Ceres Negros (PHI): The second semifinal in the ASEAN Zone will see Malaysia Johor Darul Ta'zim host Philippines' Ceres Negros in the first leg. The match-up promises to be a tight contest, even though JDT were not at their best in the group stages and only qualified as the best second-placed team. Even then, the Malaysian side remain a highly dangerous side with the likes of Gabriel Guerra hitting form at the right time.
Their opponents Ceres Negros have blown hot and cold throughout the group stages before two wins in the final two games just about helped them thwart Hanoi FC to the top spot and a spot in the semifinal. Johor will want nothing but a win in the first leg as they have not really been the best of travellers this time around, losing two and drawing one in the group stages.
Venue: Tan Sri Dato' Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium, Johor Bahru
Kick-off: May 17, 18:15 UTC+5.30