- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Two-time champion Al Hilal has a daunting opener in the Asian Champions League round of 16, traveling to Tehran to play a Persepolis lineup that had a 100 percent winning record and an average crowd of 72,000 at its Tehran home in the group stage of the tournament.

The first of the knockout stages is a home-and-away format featuring four Korean teams including two-time Asian champion Seongnam, which hosts 2013 winner Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday night.

Western Sydney Wanderers were eliminated despite winning at Evergrande on the last night of group-stage matches, while 2014 runners-up Al Hilal advanced atop Group C.

Al Hilal will again be without star striker Nassir Al Shamrani due to suspension for the match at Azadi Stadium in the Iranian capital on Tuesday night, when Persepolis will be aiming to use home advantage to set up a run to the quarterfinals for the first time.

Persepolis, which beat Al Nassr and Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor in front of capacity 100,000 crowds during the group stage, has twice qualified for the round of 16 but never reached the last eight.

“We were in the toughest group alongside the Saudi Arabian champions, Qatari champion and the best team in Uzbekistan,” said Branko Ivankovic, who replaced Hamid Derakhshan as Persepolis coach during the group stage. “We have the same chance against Al Hilal, who I believe are a better team than Al Nassr. I’m completely satisfied with my players’ performances so far and I’m proud of them.”

Also on Tuesday, Qatari rivals 2011 champion Al Sadd and Lekhwiya meet in the western conference and, in the east, K-League champion Jeonbuk hosts Beijing Guoan at Jeonju and two-time continental champion Suwon will be at home to Kashiaw Reysol.

Seongnam is coming off a loss in the group stage to Gamba Osaka and will have to be at its peak when it hosts Chinese Super League champion Guangzhou Evergrande, which reached the knockout stage for the fourth consecutive seasons by topping a challenging group containing 2014 winner Western Sydney and 2013 finalist Seoul FC.

“We were in a tough group and qualified with one round left and I am very happy with it,” Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro said. “We’ve been through lots of change this season and overcame many difficulties, but still we managed to qualify as the winner of the group. But at last I think if we can show our quality, we can decide the result. We should focus on ourselves in every match.”

FC Seoul, which will be without suspended defender Osmar Barba when it hosts Gamba Osaka on Wednesday, advanced with a last-minute winner from Colombian midfielder Mauricio Molina against Kashima Antlers two weeks ago.

In the western division on Wednesday, United Arab Emirates clubs Al Ain and Al Ahli meet and Naft Tehran will be at home to Saudi club Al Ahli.


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