Close match expected in Dubai

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UAE giants Al Ahli host Guangzhou Evergrande of China in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final in Dubai on Saturday.

This is Ahli's first Champions League final having previously exited in the group stages in 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2014. 

A big plus for Cosmin Olaroiu's side going into Saturday's match is that they have remained undefeated in all six home games in this season's competition and will be hoping to take that form into the first leg. 

Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande are the favourites based on the recent and the not so recent past: they are unbeaten since Luis Felipe Scolari took over in June and just clinched the Chinese Super League title; they are also the only Chinese side to win the AFC Champions League title after lifting the trophy in 2013.

The home side reached the final with a 4-3 aggregate win over 2014 runners-up Al Hilal last month, despite an appeal of the result by their opponents.

The hero for Ahli in that dramatic win was Kwon Kyung-won who scored with a 90th-minute winner to secure the 3-2 victory. Saudi giants Al Hilal tried to have the result overturned claiming that winger Oussama Assaidi was ineligible.

However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed the appeal.

Guangzhou's road to the final has been straight forward after beating Gamba Osaka 2-1 over two legs and have generally looked a class act under Scolari.

One of the players to watch out for on Saturday is former Benfica marksman Lima, who joined Al Ahli in July. He made an immediate impact in the Champions League by scoring four times in as many matches: in victories against Naft Tehran and Al Hilal en route to the final. 

Another Brazilian to look out for in the Ahli side is Everton Ribeiro, who signed from Cruzeiro in February. His four goals in the Champions League campaign have come at vital times and he will be hoping to add to his tally in the final. 

His goal-scoring form in the first leg is key as to whether he side will take a decent scoreline into the second leg in China. 

For Guangzhou, Elkeson has been a consistent performer. He joined the Chinese champions in the middle of the 2013 season and had always been one of the players to watch. Having scored 59 goals in 72 games since joining, the Brazilian forward is expected to pose a big threat for Ahli.

What makes this final an interesting prospect is that this is the first meeting between the two sides. The anticipated tactical clash between two experienced managers is something that will excite many. 

Scolari is a world-class coach and the Brazilian is no stranger on the Asian scene either, having guided Uzbekistan powerhouse Bunyodkor to the knockout stage in 2010. Ahli coach Olaroiu is no push over having gained experience and knowledge after spells with a number of west Asian sides. 

It is a tough call to make a prediction on the first leg but Ahli at home will not be a side that will be easily beaten and Guangzhou will be happy to get a draw.

First leg Prediction: Al Ahli 1-0 Guangzhou Evergrande

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