Neymar, Benzema to Debut in Asian Champions League


Neymar, Benzema to Debut in Asian Champions League

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Saudi Pro League sensation Neymar is set to debut and experience Asian Champions League action for the first time. This comes as Al-Hilal, who came in second place last season, have been placed in a group with Iran’s Nassaji Mazandaran FC, India’s Mumbai City FC, and Uzbekistan’s Navbahor in this year’s group stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Al-Nassr and Karim Benzema of Al-Ittihad will also make their first appearances in the group stage of the top club football tournament in Asia. They aim to lead their teams to success against opponents from across central and eastern Asia.

Using its vast oil riches amounting to billions of dollars, Saudi Arabia has been actively acquiring various sports assets. This strategy is part of their larger goal to diversify their economy, as well as to draw in tourism and investment opportunities.

Al-Hilal holds the distinction of being the most successful team in AFC Champions League history, having secured four championship titles. For the 2023-24 season, Al-Hilal boasts the presence of the dynamic Brazilian playmaker Neymar in their squad, as they set their sights on capturing the title for an unprecedented fifth occasion. Al-Nassr, who reached the semi-finals in both the 2020 and 2021 tournaments, have been drawn into a group with Iran’s Persepolis FC, Qatar’s Al-Duhail SC, and Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol.


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The reigning champions of the Saudi Pro League, Al-Ittihad, are aiming to clinch their first Asian Champions League title since their consecutive victories in 2004 and 2005. Their ambitions are bolstered by the acquisition of French talents Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante.

Al-Ittihad will face the challenge of competing against Iran’s Sepahan SC, Iraq’s Air Force Club, and Uzbekistan’s AGMK FC in the upcoming matches. The reigning champions, Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan, will be vying for the title in the eastern division of the competition. They are set to compete against China’s Wuhan Three Towns FC, South Korea’s Pohang Steelers, and Vietnam’s Hanoi FC.

Following the draw at the headquarters of the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur, Secretary-General Windsor John remarked that all the qualified teams are up against challenging opponents throughout the competition.

“No easy matches,” he said, adding that “a video assistant referee (VAR) system will be introduced from the group stage”.

The group stage is scheduled to take place from September 18 to December 13, while the knockout stage will commence on February 12.

The final, which will consist of two legs, is set to be played on May 11 and 18, 2024.

Asian Champions League 2023-24 Group Stage Draw

Group A: Pakhtakor (UZB), Al Fayha (KSA), Ahal (TKM), Al Ain (UAE)

Group B: Al Sadd (QAT), Nasaf (UZB), Al Faisaly (JOR), Sharjah (UAE)

Group C: Al Ittihad (KSA), Sepahan (IRN), Air Force Club (IRQ), AGMK (UZB)

Group D: Al Hilal (KSA), Nassaji Mazandaran (IRN), Mumbai City (IND), Navbahor (UZB)

Group E: Persepolis (IRN), Al Duhail (QAT), Istiklol (TJK), Al Nassr (KSA)

Group F: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR), Bangkok United (THA), Lion City Sailors (SGP), Kitchee (HKG)

Group G: Yokohama F. Marinos (JPN), Shandong Taishan (CHN), Kaya FC-Iloilo (PHI), Incheon United (KOR)

Group H: Buriram United (THA), Ventforet Kofu (JPN), Melbourne City (AUS), Zhejiang (CHN)

Group I: Ulsan Hyundai (KOR), Kawasaki Frontale (JPN), Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS), BG Pathum United (THA)

Group J: Wuhan Three Towns (CHN), Pohang Steelers (KOR), Hanoi (VIE), Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)


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