The 2016 AFC Champions League final gets under way on Saturday as Al Ain travel to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
This clash of West and East Asia’s finest will pit a talented collection of players against each other, with the individual battles set to play a key role in deciding the identity of the next continental king.
Here are the key battles.
LIM JONG-EUN v DOUGLAS
If Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic decides to ditch his experiment with a ‘false nine’ from the semi-final, second leg then Douglas will be back in the starting line-up.
Facing the 28-year-old Brazilian striker will be centre-back Lim Jong-eun. The tall player has proved an adept pick-up from Jeonnam Dragons, playing 28 games as his new side finished runners-up in the recently-completed K League Classic.
The 26-year-old will look to dominate Douglas, who has recovered from a slow start to the season to score eight times in his last 10 appearances.
If he is in the right frame of mind, his predatory instincts could be key in Jeonju.
CHOI CHUL-SOON v OMAR ABDULRAHMAN
The Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors stalwart could be entrusted with the most-demanding job in Asian football today; man-marking the effervescent Omar Abdulrahman.
The 29-year-old is usually deployed at right-back, but when a special focus is required on an opposing playmaker then coach Choi Kang-hee moves him up to defensive midfield.
His task will be to prevent AFC Player of the Year-elect ‘Amoory’, 25, from collecting a ninth man of the match in 13 fixtures in this edition.
Abdulrahman has delivered with a consistency not witnessed since 2012/13. Only a nagging back injury could curb him this weekend, yet he is sure to turn on the tricks and flicks which make him standout as Asia’s premier footballer.
Winner: Omar Abdulrahman
LEE JAE-SUNG v LEE MYUNG-JOO
Despite never letting Al Ain down during his three seasons with them, Lee Myung-joo has dropped out of the reckoning for the national team in recent years. One players to force their way into the Taeguk Warriors set-up in his place is Lee Jae-sung.
The 24-year-old is a rising star, tipped to possibly head off to Europe as soon as the January transfer window.
He cuts an artful presence in the engine room of his team, possessing an exceptional gift for finding space.
This will be a tight scrap, but one the Jeonbuk man will edge.
Winner: Lee Jae-sung
LEONARDO v FAWZI FAYEZ
Make no mistake about it, Fawzi Fayez is set for a taxing evening in Jeonju.
The 29-year-old was third-choice right-back at the Boss for the last two seasons, making a grand total of 12 Arabian Gulf League appearances. But the sale of Mohammed Fawzi to Al Jazira and long-term injury suffered by No1 Mohamed Ahmed has cast him into the spotlight.
His immediate opponent Leonardo, 30, has been one of the brightest starts of the 2016 ACL. The ex-Brazil youth international has plundered a lethal eight strikes in 12 matches in the ongoing tournament, causing chaos from his position out on the left wing of a 4-3-3 formation.
To Fayez’s credit, he has not let Al Ain down this season. But it looks like he will have to raise his game to an unobtainable level to win this individual fight.
KIM SHIN-WOOK v ISMAIL AHMED
Buckle yourself in for a battle of the giants when 6 ft 51⁄2 in Jeonbuk centre forward Kim Shin-wook squares up against the 6 ft 3 in Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
Asian football rarely sees such gladiatorial clashes.
Intriguingly despite their physical advantages, neither is a brute. Kim, 28, is a consummate link man, who offers far more to the teams he features in than a paltry return of three goals in 36 South Korea caps and 10 strikes in 45 games for his current club suggests.
Ahmed, 33, allies a learned ability to read the game with a long-limbed frame. The 2014 AFC Player of the Year nominee has recovered from a shaky start to 2016 to be peerless in West Asia during recent months.
He will be tasked with preventing Kim from setting the platform for the likes of Lee Jae-sung, Ricardo Lopes and Leonardo. This is a job he is capable of completing.
Winner: Ismail Ahmed
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