AFC Champions League 2017 is entering its business end with this week set to witness the first legs of the two semifinals. Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal are up against Iran's Persepolis in one encounter while China's Shanghai SIPG are taking on Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds. It promises to be an exciting week:
AL HILAL (KSA) V PERSEPOLIS (IRN)
The first of the semifinals sees Al Hilal take on this year's surprise packages, Persepolis, at home on Tuesday. It promises to be an exciting clash with both sides looking to win their first ever title. Interestingly, both teams had played each other in the group stages earlier but both games ended as draws.
Al Hilal, who beat Al Ain in the quarterfinals, are yet to taste defeat in the tournament and they will not want to do so at this stage. This is Al Hilal's third semifinal appearance in four years and this time they will be doubly determined to make it count. Their hopes will be pinned on the performance of star striker Carlos Eduardo and Omar Khribin.
Branko Ivankovic's Persepolis side has shown a lot of heart to reach this stage, defeating the likes of Lekhwiya and Al Ahli against the odds. They can be expected to play a fearless brand of football, especially with the tournament's top scorer Mehdi Taremi in their ranks.
Venue: Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: September 26, 20:00 UTC+4
SHANGHAI SIPG (CHN) V URAWA RED DIAMONDS (JPN)
Shanghai SIPG will welcome Urawa Red Diamonds in the other AFC Champions League semifinal first leg on Wednesday, looking for a good result that will put them in the driving seat ahead of the second leg.
However, the Chinese side will be hampered by the fact they will miss captain Wang Shenchao, goalkeeper Yan Junling and midfielder Wang Jiajie due to suspensions. This is Shanghai SIPG's first appearance in the semifinals of the competition but Andre Villas-Boas' side will take solace from the fact that they have not lost a game at home in the competition. They have also scored 3.6 goals a game at home, which will send alarm bells ringing through the Urawa ranks.
Urawa Red Diamonds, on the other hand, will be buoyed after completing a stunning turnaround in the second leg against Kawasaki Frontale in the previous round. Urawa are the top scoring team in the 2017 edition with 26 goals – one more than Wednesday’s opponents Shanghai SIPG. The J.League club have also achieved the highest shot conversion rate of any team this season in the AFC Champions League (22.8%).
One can definitely expect goals in this match and with stars like Shanghai's Hulk and Urawa's Koroki sniffing around, the game should be exciting.
Venue: Shanghai Stadium, Shanghai
Kick-off: September 27, 20:00 UTC+8