AFC Cup action is all set to return this week in the form of the West Zone final and the Inter Zonal semifinal second legs as the competing teams look to take one step closer to continental glory. Which teams will take that all important step forward? What is in store for us in the AFC Cup this week? Let's find out: \
WEST ZONE Final 1st Leg:
AL WAHDA (SYR) v AIR FORCE CLUB (IRQ)
Syria's Al Wahda are all set to host defending champions Air Force Club of Iraq in the first leg of the West Zone final on Tuesday. There will be a lot on the line, considering that the winners of the tie will progress to the Grand Final of the AFC Cup where the winners of the Inter-Zonal playoffs will await them.
Syria's Al Wahda are a strong team at home and will be looking to ensure that they get a good result in the first leg against Air Force Club. In the zonal semi final, Al Wahda trounced Jordan's Al Wehdat 4-0 at home in the first leg as they won the tie 4-1 on aggregate. The Syrian team will want a repeat of such a result against Air Force Club. But the defending champions will not be pushovers.
They started the tournament on a slow note but are gathering momentum at the right time as they look to defend their trophy. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home against Al Zawra'a in the zonal semi final, Air Force Club showed tremendous determination to win the second leg 1-0 and progress to this game. As such, they will be fancying their chances of reaching the summit clash again. It promises to be an exciting game.
Venue: Saida Municipal Stadium, Saida
Kick-off: September 12, 18:00 UTC+5:30
Inter Zonal Semifinals 2nd Leg:
CERES NEGROS FC (PHI) v FC ISTIKLOL (TJK)
Philippine's Ceres Negros have an extremely tough task on their hands as they welcome Tajikistan's FC Istiklol for the second leg of their AFC Cup Inter Zonal semifinal. Having lost the first leg by a huge margin of 4-0, their hopes of reaching the next stage have all but evaporated.
Ceres, the ASEAN Zone champions, were given a rude shock by Istiklol in the first leg and the 2015 finalists romped home to a win that all but secures their place in the Inter Zonal final. Ceres Negros will have to engineer a miraculous effort to keep themselves alive in the competition and put five goals past Istiklol which seems to be an impossible task.
Istiklol are unbeaten so far in the tournament and the Tajik outfit is looking sharp, as seen in the first leg. All they have to do on Tuesday is to hold on to their four-goal cushion and they can start by keeping Ceres' Bienvenido Maranon quiet. All said and done, this seems to a tie that is done and dusted already.
Venue: Pana-ad Park and Football Stadium, Bacolod City
Kick-off: September 12, 17:00 UTC+5:30
4.25 SC (PRK) v BENGALURU FC (IND)
India's Bengaluru FC will be very confident going into their AFC Cup Inter Zonal semifinal second leg against 4.25 SC of North Korea on Wednesday despite playing their first ever game in North Korea.
The 2016 finalists made full use of wet and rainy conditions in Bengaluru during the first leg to triumph 3-0 and ensure they go into this tie on the front foot. On paper, this tie looks to be over already but one can never rule out surprises especially in alien conditions. Bengaluru, strengthened by the signings of Erik Paartalu and Dimas Delgado, will be eyeing a sedate game and comfortable passage to the Inter Zonal final.
4.25 SC, on the other hand, have no option but to fly out in attack and overturn a huge scoreline. The first step on that path will be the reinstatement of Kim Yu-song in the starting lineup after the AFC Cup top scorer was benched initially in the first leg. We are set for an intriguing tie in Pyongyang.
Venue: May Day Stadium, Pyongyang
Kick-off: September 13, 13:30 UTC+5:30