Al Hilal, Al Duhail deliver dream AFC Champions League West Zone decider

Moussa Marega scored the only goal of the game with just three minutes remaining to hand Al Hilal a 1-0 win over Foolad in the 2022 AFC Champions League quarterfinals. KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images

What makes a football game a "massive tie"? The most straightforward guarantee of that is when two big teams face off against one another.

Even more so when it comes in the latter stages of a knockout competition.

And when it is a continental tournament in question, there is usually more intrigue when the two teams in question hail from different nations -- but still powerhouses nonetheless.

So it is rather difficult to find fault with this weekend's AFC Champions League West Zone decider -- which will pit reigning champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia against Qatari heavyweights Al Duhail, after both teams successfully made it past the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Al Duhail were the first team to advance as a Michael Olunga double proved enough to secure a 2-1 victory over another Saudi Pro League outfit in Al Shabab, before Al Hilal toiled to a 1-0 triumph over Iran's Foolad after Moussa Marega bagged the winner with just three minutes remaining.

While technically still a semifinal and with no actual prize on offer, the ACL's zonal segregation means that the winners of Sunday's tie effectively earn bragging rights as the competition's best team in the west for a year at least -- with East Zone finalists Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan's J1 League awaiting in the two-legged final to be contested later this year.

A cursory glance at the personnel of both teams suggests a similarly high level of talent, which should make for quite the spectacle this weekend, but the differing histories of the two clubs will only add to the narrative.

First, there are the old masters Al Hilal, the ACL's record four-time champions who are gunning for a third title in four years and are fresh off the back of an inspired run to the FIFA Club World Cup final, where they lost to LaLiga giants Real Madrid in a 5-3 thriller.

Al Hilal's pedigree in Asia's premier club competition is undeniable and, while the spotlight in recent times has fallen on domestic rivals Al Nassr following their capture of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, they have no shortage of star quality.

With a squad littered with Saudi Arabia internationals who caused quite a stir at last year's FIFA World Cup when they beat eventual champions Argentina in their campaign opener, Al Hilal also have a strong foreign contingent headlined by former Manchester United man Odion Ighalo but also including ex-Porto man Marega and Argentine attacker Luciano Vietto, who had spells with Spanish outfits Villarreal, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia, and also featured in the Premier League for Fulham.

Then there is Al Duhail, the upstarts from the growing force in Asia that is Qatari football.

Having only existed in their current guise since 2017, Al Duhail wasted no time in continuing the success they enjoyed previously as Lekhwiya -- claiming two of the five Qatar Stars League titles on offer since then.

As the only team to significantly challenge the dominance of Al Sadd, who grabbed the headlines with the presence of Barcelona legend Xavi first as a player of theirs and then their coach, it is slightly peculiar that this season marks the first time that Al Duhail have made it past the quarterfinals of the ACL given they are usually among those tipped to go far at the start of any campaign.

Since his emergence as an outstanding prospect, Qatar international Almoez Ali has established himself as Al Duhail's star man but he has a supporting crew that many would be envious of.

South Korea playmaker Nam Tae-hee continues to perform with minimal of fuss, wingback-turned-striker Edmilson Junior remains this season's top scorer in the ACL even if he has not netted after the group stage, while Kenya international Olunga has been prolific since joining the club in 2021.

With all due respect to the vanquished Al Shabab and Foolad, Sunday's game might have been less of a spectacle had either or both of them been contesting it -- from both a storyline and an on-field talent viewpoint.

But with Al Hilal and Al Duhail facing off for a spot in the 2022 ACL final, the West Zone can now eagerly anticipate a dream decider.