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Exciting challenge awaits Qatar’s Al Sadd, Al Duhail in AFC Champions League

Doha, Qatar: The winners of the high-voltage all-Qatari AFC Champions League last 16 match between Al Sadd and Al Duhail will take on the victors of the clash between Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr and Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates.

The first leg will take place on August 26, with the return leg on September 16.

But QNB Stars League champions Sadd and Emir Cup winners Duhail, by far the most powerful clubs in Qatar, will have to square off each other in a mouth-watering last-16 tie before they think of their potential rivals. Duhail will host Sadd in the first leg on August 6 while the return fixture is on August 13.

With former captain Xavi Hernandez taking over as coach from Jesualdo Ferreira, Sadd have roped in Nam Tae Hee, who was a key player for Duhail before the South Korean suffered a cruciate ligament injury.

Duhail, currently having their training camp in Portugal, are sure to strengthen the side while Nakajima Shoya has shown in Copa America that he is going to be a key player for them this season.

The other West Zone quarterfinal will see the winners of the Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia) and Zobahan (Iran) Round of 16 tie pitted against the victors of the tie between Saudi Arabia clubs Al Ahli and Al Hilal. The first leg will be played on August 27 with the return leg on September 17.

Meanwhile in East Zone, defending Asian champions Kashima Antlers face a tough showdown after being drawn against Fabio Cannavaro's Guangzhou Evergrande, two-time winners of the competition.

Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds, champions in 2007 and 2017, will take on Shanghai SIPG, who have never made it past the quarter-finals. 

Kashima are aiming to become the first Japanese side to win back-to-back titles in Asia's premier football competition.

"It is our dream to win again, it is an important title for the club," Kashima spokesman Ryugo Matsumoto told AFP after the draw at the AFC headquarters in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

But he admitted it would be tough to beat Evergrande. As well as being coached by Italian World Cup winner Cannavaro, the Chinese giants boast top foreign names including Brazilian midfielder Paulinho.

Evergrande will be hoping to improve on poor performances in recent years — they have not gone beyond the quarter-final stage since 2015.

Urawa may also have a fight on their hands in their quarter-final, as well-heeled SIPG have a star-studded front line led by Brazil international Hulk. 

The competition is split into two geographic zones, east and west, until the final. 

The final lineup for the other two quarter-finals will be decided once the west zone completes matches in the Round of 16.

All the quarter-finals are played over two legs in August and September.

Draw (played over two legs, home and away)

Quarter-final 1: Al Nassr (KSA) / Al Wahda (UAE) V Al Duhail (QAT) / Al Sadd (QAT)

Quarter-final 2: Al Ittihad (KSA) / Zobahan (IRN) V Al Ahli (KSA) / Al Hilal (KSA)

Quarter-final 3: Shanghai SIPG (CHN) V Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)

Quarter-final 4: Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) V Kashima Antlers (JPN)

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