AFC Cup 2017 Preview: Central, South and East Zone returns to action

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AFC Cup 2017 Groups D, E and I have reached their midway point as standings begin to take shape. As such, let's take a look at what this week has in store for us:

GROUP D (Central Zone)

Altyn Asyr VS Al-Hadd

FC Alay (KGZ) v FC Istiqlol (TJK):  Group D leaders FC Istiqlol have a gilt-edged opportunity to take control of Group D when they travel to Kyrgyz Republic's FC Alay who are currently bottom of the group with zero points. Istiqlol are level on points with Altyn Asyr and this is a good opportunity for them to move ahead, with Altyn having to play a slightly stronger opponent. 

FC Alay have survival on their minds, for a loss will most definitely see them eliminated. Istiqlol are definitely the favourites to win this game. The visitors have Romish Dzhalilov back from suspension for the trip to Osh, while the hosts welcome back Murolimzhon Akhmedov.

Venue: Akhmatbek Suyinbaev Stadium, Osh
Kick-off: May 3, 16:00 UTC+5

Altyn Asyr (TKM) v Dordoi FC (KGZ):  Altyn Asyr, placed second in Group D only on goal difference, will be intent on winning this game and keep abreast with Istiqlol as the group nears the business end. Kyrgyz Republic's Dordoi FC, with only three points in their kitty so far, should not provide much challenge to Altyn Asyr on the night. 

There is also the danger of elimination for Dordoi if they lose and Istiqlol win the other group game. They wouldn't want to leave anything to chance but the task will not be easy. Moreover, the reverse fixture had seen Dordoi lose 2-0 at home. 

Venue: Sport Toplumy, Balkanabat
Kick-off: May 3, 17:00 UTC+5

GROUP E (South Zone)

Maziya celebrate win over Mohun Bagan

Maziya Sports & Recreation (MDV) v Mohun Bagan (IND):  Maldives' Maziya S&RC will be eyeing another win over Mohun Bagan when the Indian club come calling at Male for a Group E encounter on Wednesday. Maziya, placed second on the table with six points, will want to catch up with group leaders Bengaluru FC by landing a killer blow on Mohun Bagan, after the 1-0 win away in the last round at Kolkata. 

The side from Kolkata have already suffered two losses and are in danger of being eliminated. Their morale is not really the highest, after having been pipped to the I-League crown by Aizawl FC last Sunday. Maziya have Milos Kovacevic suspended for the tie while Bagan have no such concerns. 

Venue: National Stadium, Male
Kick-off: May 3, 16:00 UTC+5

AFC Cup: ASEAN Zone Preview

Abahani Limited Dhaka (BAN) v Bengaluru FC (IND):  Group leaders Bengaluru FC will view Wednesday's away tie against Abahani Ltd Dhaka as an opportunity to maintain their perfect home record in the tournament. Abahani are struggling and have picked up zero points so far. Even a draw on Wednesday will see them eliminated from the group. 

The Bangladeshi side have looked out of their depth so far and could be in for a long night on Wednesday as Bengaluru look to put a mediocre domestic season behind them. Moreover, Bengaluru welcome back Cameron Watson and Sandesh Jhingan from suspension. 

Venue: Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka
Kick-off: May 3, 18:10 UTC+6

GROUP I (East Zone)

Kigwancha SC (PRK) v 4.25 SC (PRK):  It's a second successive Pyongyang derby in three-team Group I as Kigwancha SC and 4.25 SC lock horns once again in the North Korean capital on Wednesday. Adding more spice to the clash is the fact that both teams are locked atop the group with four points each and the victor in this game is more likely than not to progress. 

Interestingly, a win for either would eliminate bottom side Erchim FC. Hosts Kigwancha welcome back Ri Thong-il from suspension, in what is a major boost. Sparks are bound to fly in North Korea. 

Venue: Kim II Sung Stadium, Pyongyang
Kick-off: May 3, 15:00 UTC+8:30