- 2020 AFC Champions League campaign resumes after seven-month hiatus
- Three 2022 World Cup stadiums used as venues in West Asia
- Holders Al Hilal among six former winners chasing glory
The AFC Champions League is set to return on Monday. The 2020 edition began in February, but only two rounds were played due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
With strict measures put in place by the Asian Football Confederation and the Qatar Government, the AFC Champions League will welcome the return of the continent’s elite clubs.
The remainder of the campaign will see 32 teams compete in a centralised format. In West Asia, all matches will be staged in Qatar across two weeks from 14-30 September, with 16 sides vying for a place in the final. In East Asia, the competition will resume on 15 November.
All eyes will be on defending champions Al Hilal’s clash with Pakhtakor as the action restarts on Monday. FIFA.com previews everything you need to know about Asia’s prestigious continental club competition.
Qatar 2022 stadiums
All matches in West Asia will be staged in four stadiums across Qatar – three of which will host FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ matches, namely Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Khalifa International Stadium in Doha and Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan. The latter, in fact, saw its first official match played on 4 September with Al Sadd SC running out 5-1 winners over Al Kharaitiyat in the 2020/21 Qatar Stars League’s season opener.
Players to watch
Bafetimbi Gomis was the competition’s leading marksman last season, and he has three goals in two appearances this one – both Al Hilal victories. Hassan Al Haydos, who scored three times as Al Sadd opened up with two wins, is another to keep an eye on, while Al Nassr’s Moroccan striker Abderrazaq Hamdallah has excelled on both domestic and continental fronts this year, notably topping the Saudi Pro League scoring chart with 29 goals.
Perth Glory, Shabab Al Ahli, Shahr Khodro and Vissel Kobe are all participating in the AFC Champions League for the first time. While the former trio are on zero points from two games, the Emperor’s Cup holders have beaten both Johor Darul Ta’zim and Suwon Bluewings.
This campaign features six former winners since the competition was transformed into the AFC Champions League in 2003. Al Hilal, Al Ain, Al Sadd and Ulsan Hyundai enter the competition hoping to recapture continental glory, while Guangzhou Evergrande and Jeonbuk Motors aim to win it for a third time.
What they said
“Al Sadd is the biggest club in Qatar and it’s a great honour to be part of this club. We have to try to win everything, all the titles. I will try my best every day to help the team.”
Santi Cazorla, Al Sadd midfielder
“It was a long season and very tough, and after a long period of inactivity we are working very hard. We concentrated on the league and won the title and now we are concentrating on the AFC Champions League.”
Razvan Lucescu, Al Hilal coach
Group A: Al Ahli, Al Shorta, Al Wahda, Esteghlal
Group B: Shabab Al Ahli, Shahr Khodro, Al Hilal, Pakhtakor
Group C: Al Duhail, Sharjah, Persepolis, Al Taawoun
Group D: Al Ain, Al Sadd, Sepahan, Al Nassr
Group E: FC Seoul, Beijing FC, Melborne Victory, Chiangrai United
Group F: FC Tokyo, Ulsan Hyundai, Shanghai Shenhua, Perth Glory
Group G: Vissel Kobe, Johor Darul Ta’zim, Guangzhou Evergrande, Suwon Bluewings
Group H: Yokohama F. Marinos, Jeonbuk Motors, Sydney FC, Shanghai SIPG
* Al Wahda have informed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that they are unable to travel to Qatar as several members of the club tested positive for COVID-19. The matter will now be referred to the relevant AFC committees for a decision in accordance with the regulations.