Al Fayha will confront Al-Nassr in the initial leg of their round of 16 match in the AFC Champions League at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in an all-Saudi clash on Wednesday.
The Orange progressed as one of the best second-place finishers with nine points after a remarkable 4-1 comeback victory over Pakhator in their final group match, while Al-Nassr remained unbeaten in the group phase, achieving a 1-1 draw with Istikol on the concluding matchday.
In tournaments like this, finishing strong often matters more than the start, and that was the case for Al Fayha in the group stage.
Despite losing three of their first four fixtures, the Orange came through when required, winning their last two encounters and netting a total of seven goals in those victories.
Vuk Rasovic’s side has struggled at home recently, suffering three consecutive home defeats in the Saudi Pro League and conceding 10 times during that period.
Their most recent home win occurred in late November against Ahal on matchday five of the Champions League group stage (3-1), while they have endured five successive losses against Saudi opponents in the top flight, leaving them in 14th place, just two points above the relegation zone.
The 2023-24 campaign marks their debut in this competition, and this will be their first time participating in a two-leg tie, having been eliminated from the King’s Cup last October (3-0 against Al-Ittihad), marking their first exit at that stage since January 2020 (1-0 loss to Al Ahli).
All their domestic points in 2023-24 have come when scoring first, although two of their three wins in the group stage of this tournament occurred when the opposite happened.
This is their first appearance in the Champions League since the 2020-21 campaign, but Al-Nassr appeared comfortable in the opening phase, winning their first four games.
Wednesday will be the fourth time they have reached the knockout stage in their last four appearances in this competition, with Al-Alami progressing beyond the round of 16 in their three previous showings in this tournament.
Their hopes for the domestic title suffered a setback last Thursday, falling 2-0 to league-leaders Al-Hilal, trailing by seven points in the race for first place, and ending their seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Luis Castro’s men responded well when faced with adversity in the Champions League group stage, managing to secure a positive result on three occasions after conceding first.
Two of their three domestic defeats in 2023-24 occurred away from home, although they have not lost a Champions League match outside of Riyadh since September 2020 (1-0 defeat against Al-Ain at Education City Stadium in Qatar).
They are undefeated in their last 10 competitive matches against Al Fayha, with their most recent loss to them taking place in the 2017-18 Saudi Pro League campaign (1-0).
Al Fayha AFC Champions League form:
L W L L W W
Al Fayha form (all competitions):
L W L L L L
Al-Nassr AFC Champions League form:
W W W W D D
Al-Nassr form (all competitions):
W W W W W L
Abdelhamid Sabiri is unlikely to be available for Al Fahya on Wednesday due to an unknown issue, while Mohammed Majrashi is also expected to be sidelined because of a cruciate ligament injury.
Ghislain Konan, loaned from Al-Nassr, clinched the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast on Sunday, while fellow Al-Nassr loanee Youssef Haqawi earned just his second start of the tournament on matchday six at centre-back.
Fashion Sakala has scored three goals in his last two Champions League matches, including a brace on matchday six, while Sultan Mandash and Henry Onyekuru also opened their account in this competition.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored three goals for Al-Nassr in the Champions League group phase, returned to the lineup last Thursday for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed injury in late January, while David Ospina’s availability is uncertain due to a torn thigh muscle.
Only two Al-Nassr players who started their matchday five Champions League encounter retained their place in the starting 11 on matchday six, Sami Al-Najei and Abdulrahman Ghareeb.
Talisca has notched six goals in this Champions League season, tying with Cryzan for the most in the tournament, though he failed to score in their final two group matches.
Al Fayha possible starting lineup:
Al-Khalaf, Al-Baqawi, Haqawi, Al-Shuwaish, Konan;
Mandash, Al-Safri, Kaabi, Sakala;
Al-Nassr possible starting lineup:
Boushal, Al-Fatil, Laporte, Qassem;
Otavio, Al-Najei, Mane;
Prediction: Al Fayha 1-4 Al-Nassr
With seasoned veterans and a wealth of experience, Al-Nassr is poised to dominate. Expect a commanding performance from Al-Nassr, securing a convincing victory over Al Fayha in this AFC Champions League showdown.