Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — The AFC Champions League group stage draw resulted in balanced groups for the Saudi Arabian teams participating in the new edition of the tournament. The groups appear to be evenly matched, with Group D, featuring Al Hilal, seemingly the easiest among them due to the teams it includes.
Al Hilal, the runner-up in the previous AFC Champions League, is leading Group D, alongside Iran’s Nassaji, India’s Mumbai City, and Uzbekistan’s Navbahor.
Meanwhile, Al Ittihad is leading Group C, alongside Sepahan from Iran, Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, and AGMK from Uzbekistan.
In Group E, Al Nassr is paired with Iran’s Persepolis, Qatar’s Al-Duhail, and Uzbekistan’s Istiklol. Al-Fayhaa found themselves in Group A, alongside Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor, Turkmenistan’s Ahal, and the UAE’s Al Ain. Group B only includes Qatar’s Al-Sadd, Uzbekistan’s Nasaf, Jordan’s Al-Faisaly, and the UAE’s Sharjah.
The Asian Football Confederation ranked the participating teams into four tiers. From Saudi Arabia, Al Hilal and Al Ittihad were placed in Tier 1, while Al-Fayhaa was in Tier 2, and Al Nassr in Tier 4.
The AFC announced the introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology starting from the group stage. Dato’ Windsor John, the AFC General Secretary, explained that this decision aims to enhance the tournament’s quality and keep up with developments in the Asian continent.
The draw divided the participating clubs into 10 groups, each consisting of 4 teams. Clubs from West Asia were distributed across Groups 1 to 5, while Eastern clubs were placed in Groups 6 to 10.
In East Asia, Group 6 includes South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai, Thailand’s Bangkok United, Singapore’s Lion City Sailors, and Hong Kong’s Kitchee. Group 7 features Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos, China’s Shandong Taishan, the Philippines’ Kaya FC, and South Korea’s Incheon United.
Group 8 sees Thailand’s Buriram United, Japan’s Ventforet Kofu, Australia’s Melbourne City, and China’s Zhejiang. Group 9 consists of South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai, Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, Malaysia’s JDT, and Thailand’s Pathum United. Finally, Group 10 includes China’s Wuhan, South Korea’s Pohang Steelers, Vietnam’s Hanoi, and Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds.
At the end of the group stage, the top team from each of the ten groups will advance to the Round of 16, along with the three best second-placed teams from each region.
The 21st edition of the tournament witnesses a modern format change, shifting from a spring to a fall season. The tournament will run from September 2023 to May 2024.
The knockout rounds will take place from February to April of the following year, with the final matches scheduled for May 11 and 18, 2024.