The champions of ASEAN, South, East and Central Zones will lock horns this week in the Inter-Zonal semifinal first legs as they seek to cement a place in the final to determine who gets to play the West Zone champions in the summit clash. As the excitement builds, lets take a look at the two ties that await us tonight:
FC ISTIKLOL (TAJ) v CERES NEGROS (PHI)
The first AFC Cup semifinal will see Central Zone champions FC Istiklol of Tajiksitan host ASEAN Zone champions Ceres Negros of Philippines on Tuesday.
Istiklol will be hoping to channel the spirits of 2015 when they reached the final of the competition and what better way to take a step forward than to get a positive result in the first leg at home. The side from Dushanbe are undefeated in the competition so far, winning their group with five wins and a draw. They have also scored 15 goals in the process and have conceded just four. Striker Manuchehr Dzhalilov will be their main attacking threat and Ceres will do well to deal with him effectively.
Ceres Negros, on the other hand, are battle-worn coming into this match. Having squeaked into the ASEAN zone semifinals, they had to summon inspiring second-half performances to beat both Johor Darul Ta'zim and Home United to win the ASEAN Zone. They have shown resilience and commitment in their sojourn so far and will be strong favourites to progress from this tie.
Istiklol will need to keep in check striker Bienvenido Maranon and midfielder Stephan Schrock.
Venue: Hisor Central Stadium, Hisor
Kick-off: August 22, 19:00 UTC+5
BENGALURU FC (IND) v 4.25 SC (PRK)
Last year's finalists Bengaluru FC are in unchartered waters as they prepare to fight it out against a North Korean team for the first time ever in their history in the second Inter-Zonal semifinal.
The South Zone champions from India will host East Zone champs 4.25 SC at Bengaluru on Wednesday, hoping to repeat their heroics from last season, when they became the first team from India to reach the AFC Cup final. However, Bengaluru FC is not the same team that won the South Zone group, beating the likes of Mohun Bagan and Abahani Ltd Dhaka. After changes to the domestic football structure, their squad has undergone a host of changes, with new faces coming in and many old faces have departed.
But club talisman Sunil Chhetri is still there to lead the attack and India No.1 goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh has also joined the club, giving them a huge boost against unfamiliar oppoennts.
4.25 SC, meanwhile, have banged in 14 goals in their 4 games so far with striker Kim Yu-Song himself contributing nine of them. They are palying their first ever continental campaign since 1992 and will be determined to make it count.
Venue: Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru
Kick-off: August 23, 19:00 UTC+5:30