With Central, South and East Zone groups getting underway on Tuesday, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup is about to see a busy day on Tuesday. Let's take a look at what awaits us:
Al Wahda (SYR) vs Air Force Club (IRQ)
This is the battle between two top teams in Group B. Syria’s Al Wahda are leading the group with a perfect record so far while Air Force Club (Al Quwa Al Jawiya) sit second in the group with four points.
This is a good opportunity for Al Wahda to establish a clear lead atop the table but Air Force Club, the defending champions, will be up for the game big time. This is their opportunity to gain the lead and ensure they attain automatic qualification to the next round.
This one is expected to be a cracker of a game.
Venue: Saida Municipal stadium, Saida
Kickoff: Mar 14, 14:30 UTC+2
Al Hidd (BHR) vs Safa SC (LIB)
Closing the gap on early pacesetters in Group B will be the agenda as Al Hidd welcome Safa SC to Manama for a round three clash.
Al Hidd are yet to open their account in the tournament, falling to defeats against both Al Wahda and Air Force Club while Safa SC’s only point came when they managed to hold the defending champions in the opening round.
But the Lebanese club are yet to score a goal in the tournament and Al Hidd will be hoping to capitalise on that in familiar surroundings.
Venue: Bahrain National Stadium, Manama
Kickoff: Mar 14, 18:30 UTC+3
GROUP D (Central Zone):
Group D is only getting underway on Tuesday and let’s take a peek at the teams:
FC Istiklol (TJK) vs Dordoi FC (KGZ)
Tajikistan’s Istiklol FC were the runners-up in 2015 before they were subjected to the humiliation of a group stage elimination last year. Beginning this year’s campaign against Dordoi, Istiklol will be desperate to get past the group stage.
Facing them is Kyrgyz Republic’s Dordoi FC, who had to survive two qualification rounds to get to this stage. Moreover, they are making their first ever appearance at this stage and might prove to be a tricky and determined opposition for Istiklol.
Venue: Republican Central stadium, Dushanbe
Kickoff: Mar 14, 18:30 UTC+5
FC Alay (KGZ) vs Altyn Asyr (TKM)
Kyrgyzstan champions FC Alay will take on Turkmenistan’s Altyn Asyr in the other fixture in Group D. FC Alay are making their first AFC Cup group stage appearance since 2014 and will be hopeful of starting off on a good note.
Turkmenistan’s Altyn Asyr were eliminated in the group stages last year and will be looking to get past this stage this time. For that, an assured start to the campaign with a win against FC Alay will go a long way.
Venue: Akhmatbek Suyinbaev stadium, Osh
Kickoff: Mar 14, 14:00 UTC+6
GROUP E (SOUTH ZONE)
Two familiar foes go head-to-head in the opening round of Group E as 2016 runners-up Bengaluru FC welcome Mohun Bagan for what is expected to be a pulsating encounter.
Bengaluru, who are struggling domestically, will hope to repeat their heroics from last season when they took the continent by storm to become the first team from India to play the final of the AFC Cup. Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan will aim to take advantage of Bengaluru’s finishing woes that have plagued them this season.
Interestingly, both sides met in the I-League as recently as Saturday in Bengaluru and the game finished 0-0 but it was an entertaining affair. Tuesday’s game is also expected to be a keenly contested clash between two teams who have a burgeoning rivalry in India.
Venue: Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru
Kickoff: Mar 14, 19:00 UTC+5:30
Abahani Limited Dhaka (BAN) vs Maziya Sports & Recreation (MDV)
In the second fixture in Group E, Bangladeshi side Abahani Limited Dhaka host Maldives’ Maziya Sports and Recreation as both teams look to steal a march over the Indian clubs who are favourites to clinch progression from this group.
Welsh forward Jonathan Brown will be the Dhaka side’s main threat while Maldives champions Maziya, who are making a comeback to the AFC Cup group stage after a break in 2016, have Spanish striker Pablo Rodriguez as their main weapon.
Venue: Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka
Kickoff: Mar 14, 18:10 UTC+6
GROUP F (ASEAN ZONE)
Beoungket Angkor (CAM) vs Magwe FC (MYA)
In what is a crucial bottom-of-the-table fixture, Cambodia’s Beoungket Angkor take on Magwe FC of Myanmar in Phenom Penh.
The Cambodian side are yet to register their first point in the tournament and have to chalk out a win because anything less could spell the end for their qualification hopes. The same holds true for Magwe FC who managed a creditable draw against Johor Darul Ta’zim in the previous round.
Beoungket have so far looked a bit out of their depth and are yet to score a goal. Will they able to step their game up on Tuesday? It remains to be seen.
Venue: National Olympic stadium, Phnom Penh
Kickoff: Mar 14, 18:00 UTC+7
Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) vs Global FC (PHI)
Philippine side Global FC are the early season pace setters in Group F after registering two successive wins and will be hoping to extend their lead when they visit Johor Darul Ta’zim on Tuesday.
The Malaysian side started the campaign well with a win but were held to a draw by Myanmar’s Magwe FC which meant they conceded the advantage to Global FC. But a win will go a massive way in wresting back the pole position from Global FC.
The home advantage might work out in favour of the Malaysia team and this clash promises to be a pulsating affair.
Venue: Stadium Tan Sri Dato Haji Yunos, Johor Baru
Kickoff: Mar 14, 20:45 UTC+8
GROUP H (ASEAN ZONE)
Home United (SIN) vs Than Quang Ninh (VIE)
As Singapore’s Home United and Vietnam’s Than Quang Ninh take on each other in the three-team Group H. Yadanarbon of Myanmar have already taken the lead with four points from their inital two games after defeating Home United and earning a lucky draw against Than Quang Ninh.
The Vietnamese side have the potential to take charge of this group, as evidenced by their performance in the previous round where they were unlucky to get just the single point. Meanwhile. Home United will need to put behind the scars of the defeat handed out to them by Yadanarbon.
Venue: Jalan Besar stadium, Singapore
Kickoff: Mar 14, 19:30 UTC+8
GROUP I (EAST ZONE)
4.25 SC (DPR KOR) vs Erchim FC (MON)
Group I, which has three teams, also kickoff on Tuesday and the first fixture sees Mongolian champions Erchim FC travel to Pyongyang to take on 4.25 SC of North Korea.
Both teams are making their first ever appearance at the AFC Cup group stages, making it a historic affair for the teams. 4.25 SC last made a continental appearance in 1992 when they took part in the Asian Club Championship.
Venue: May Day stadium, Pyongyang
Kickoff: Mar 14, 16:00 UTC+8:30