AFC Champions League 2017: Round of 16 - West Zone preview

Persepolis's players pose prior to the AFC Champions League qualifying football match between UAE's Al-Wahda and Iran's Persepolis
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The knockout stages are about to get underway in Asia's primary club competition with an array of sumptuous matches on offer..

The AFC Champions League 2017 is entering it's business end with the Round of 16 fixtures commencing from Monday. Let's take a closer look at what the first legs of the two-legged pre-quarterfinals in the West Zone offer us:-

Esteghlal (IRN) v Al Ain (UAE)

Esteghlal vs AL Taawoun

Iran's Esteghlal are up against a strong Emirati side in Al Ain in their Round of 16 clash on Monday. Esteghlal qualified as Group A runners-up while Al Ain reached this stage by winning Group C outright. The first leg will be held in Tehran as the Iranian team get set to take part in their first knockout stage encounter since 2013. 

Even though, they finished as runners-up in their group, Esteghlal have been quietly impressive and will not be easy pushovers for Al Ain, who have largely rode Omar Abdulrahman's brilliance to reach here. The attacking midfielder will have to shackled by Esteghlal if they hope to notch a positive result on Monday. Kaveh Rezaei, who has netted three goals so far in the tournament, will be Esteghlal's trump card. 

Al Ain welcome back defenders Ismail Ahmed and Ahmed Barman from suspension. Forward Ali Ghorbani misses out for Esteghlal. 

Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran
Kick-off: May 22, 20:45 UTC+4:30

Al Ahli (KSA) v Al Ahli (UAE)

Al Ahli FC

An intriguing contest is in the offing as Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli welcome Emirati club Al Ahli on Monday. You heard that right, two teams with the same name square off against each other. Interestingly, both teams are participating in the knockout stage after a gap of two years. The Saudi Arabians qualified as Group C runners-up while the UAE side were the Group A winners. 

Striker Omar Al Somah is the trump card for the Saudi Arabians while the UAE side have an array of talented attackers like Asamoah Gyan, Everton Ribeiro and top scorer Makhete Diop, who returns from suspension. The Saudi side are without the suspended Aqeel Al Sahabi. This game should make for a tight, close contest. 

Venue: King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah
Kick-off: May 22, 20:45 UTC+3

Persepolis (IRN) v Lekhwiya (QAT)

Lekhwiya SC

Persepolis will welcome Qatar's Lekhwiya SC at the Azadi stadium for their Round of 16 clash on Tuesday, looking to advance past this stage for the first time in four attempts. Persepolis come into this tie as Group D runners-up, after pipping Al Rayyan to that particular spot while Lekhwiya convincingly won Group B, with an unbeaten record which consisted of four wins and two draws. 

Taremi hattrick propels Persepolis into knockout stages

On form, the Qatari side look the favourites but with the likes of Mehdi Taremi plundering goals (seven in total) for the Iranian outfit, they would do well to be wary. Persepolis' main task will be to muzzle Lekhwiya's chief creator - Nam Tae Hee. How they fare in that task might well decide this tie. 

Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran
Kick-off: May 23, 19:30 UTC+4:30

Esteghlal Khouzestan (IRN) v Al Hilal (KSA)

Al Hilal

Iran's Esteghlal Khouzestan square up against Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal in the final West Zone Round of 16 tie this week, with the game being played in Muscat due to diplomatic issues between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Iranian side were runners-up in Group B and scraped through while their opponents boast an undefeated record, with three wins and three draws. 

But all their three draws have come on their travels and that is something Esteghlal Khouzestan will look to take advantage of. Nevertheless, Al Hilal are a formidable side and with the likes of Nicolas Milesi in fine form, the Iranian side might have to be wary on Tuesday. 

Venue: Seeb Sports Complex, Muscat
Kick-off: May 23, 20:00 UTC+4