Saudi Pro League sensation Neymar is about to embark on a thrilling new chapter as he steps into the arena of Asian Champions League football. This eagerly anticipated moment comes as last season’s runners-up, Al-Hilal, discover their formidable group-stage opponents: Iran’s Nassaji Mazandaran FC, India’s Mumbai City FC, and Uzbekistan’s Navbahor.
Notably, Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Ittihad’s Karim Benzema will also make their highly anticipated debuts in Asia’s premier club football competition. Both superstars are primed to lead their respective clubs to triumph against formidable opponents from across central and eastern Asia.
Saudi Arabia, with its vast reserves of oil wealth, has been on an enthusiastic mission to expand its sports portfolio as part of a broader strategy to diversify its economy, lure tourists, and attract investments.
Al-Hilal stands tall as the AFC Champions League’s most decorated team, having clinched the title four times. Now, with the flamboyant Brazilian playmaker Neymar bolstering their ranks for the 2023-24 season, Al-Hilal is setting its sights on a record-breaking fifth championship win.
Meanwhile, Al-Nassr, semi-finalists in both the 2020 and 2021 editions, are gearing up for intense clashes against Iran’s Persepolis FC, Al-Duhail SC of Qatar, and Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol.
The Saudi Pro League champions, Al-Ittihad, are dreaming of securing their first Asian Champions League title since their back-to-back triumphs in 2004 and 2005. They’ve reinforced their squad with the talents of French stars Benzema and N’Golo Kante, making them a formidable force to reckon with in a group that includes Iran’s Sepahan SC, Iraq’s Air Force Club, and Uzbekistan’s AGMK FC. The stage is set for an electrifying season of football.
The reigning champions, Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, who are determined to retain their title in the eastern division, have an exciting journey ahead in the Asian Champions League. They will go head-to-head with China’s Wuhan Three Towns FC, South Korea’s Pohang Steelers, and Vietnam’s Hanoi FC.
Following the draw held at the Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Secretary-General Windsor John emphasized that all the qualified teams were in for challenging matchups. He remarked, “No easy matches,” and revealed that a video assistant referee (VAR) system would be introduced starting from the group stage.
The group stage is scheduled to run from September 18 to December 13, promising months of intense competition. Afterward, the knockout stage is set to kick off on February 12, raising the stakes even higher.
Mark your calendars for the two-leg final, which is slated for May 11 and 18, 2024. It’s a date football enthusiasts won’t want to miss as the journey to determine the next Asian Champions League victor unfolds.