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ACL2020 Matchday One: West Asia Preview

Kuala Lumpur: Seventy-eight days after Al Hilal SFC defeated Urawa Red Diamonds in Saitama to lift the 2019 AFC Champions League trophy, the latest edition of the competition gets underway with four clashes across Groups A and B on Monday.

The reigning champions are in action in Dubai, while one debutant will make their AFC Champions League group stage bow on the same day as things kick-off in full speed in the West Zone.

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Group A

AFC Champions League football arrives to the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil as Iraq’s Al Shorta host Islamic Republic of Iran’s Esteghlal. The Iraqis have a proud history in Asian football, having reached the final of the 1971 Asian Club Championship.

While Al Shorta booked their place in the group stage as domestic champions, Esteghlal had to negotiate two qualifiers, and did so in style, brushing aside Kuwait SC 3-0 in the Preliminary Round 2 before demolishing Qatar’s Al Sailiyah SC 5-0 in the Play-off round.

The second Group A tie brings together two sides that exited the previous edition in the Round of 16. Al Ahli Saudi FC travel to Abu Dhabi as they make their sixth consecutive appearance in the competition, the longest run in the club’s history.

Their hosts, Al Wahda FC, are also enjoying their best continental form, reaching the AFC Champions League for the fourth time in a row.

Al Shorta (IRQ) v Esteghlal FC (IRN)
Venue: Franso Hariri Stadium, Erbil
Kick-off: February 10, 17:30 UTC+3

Al Wahda FSCC (UAE) v Al Ahli Saudi FC (KSA)
Venue: Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Kick-off: February 10, 19:35 UTC+4

Group B

Reigning champions Al Hilal play host to debutants Shahr Khodro in what promises to be an interesting tie.

The Iranians made their way to the group stage courtesy of a 2-1 win over Bahrain’s Riffa SC in the Preliminary Round 2 and a penalty shootout victory over Qatar’s Al Sailiyah SC in the Play-off.

Al Hilal have gone from strength to strength after winning the title, finding themselves top of the Saudi Pro League and will hope to start their title defence in style in the neutral ground of Al Wasl Stadium.

In Tashkent, 2015 runners-up Al Ahli return to continental action after two years of absence following their merger with Al Shabab SC & Dubai SC to form Shabab Al Ahli Dubai club. The UAE Pro League table-toppers get their 2020 campaign underway against Pakhtakor who had exited the 2019 edition at the group stage.

Al Hilal SFC (KSA) v Shahr Khord (IRN)
Venue: Al Wasl Stadium, Dubai
Kick-off: February 10, 18:40 UTC+4

Pakhtakor (UZB) v Shabab Al Ahli Dubai (UAE)
Venue: Pakhtakor Stadium, Tashkent
Kick-off: February 10, 16:00 UTC+5

Group C

A repeat of the 2018 AFC Champions League quarter-final between Al Duhail and Persepolis gets Group C underway as the two heavyweights clash in Doha on Tuesday.

Two years ago, it was Persepolis who triumphed, going all the way to the final before losing to Kashima Antlers. But with several changes to both sides, including at the managerial level, there will be a fresh feel to this high-profile encounter.

Unexpected champions of the 2018-19 UAE Pro League, Sharjah return to continental action for the first time since 2004, having withdrawn from the 2011 edition. In their sole AFC Champions League participation, Sharjah topped their group before being knocked out by Seongnam FC in the quarter-finals.

Sharjah get their 2020 campaign started at home against another rising power in West Asian football; Al Taawoun return to the AFC Champions League as Saudi King’s Cup winners, having first appeared in the competition in 2017 after finishing fourth in the league the previous season. Their only previous continental adventure ended in a third-place finish and a group stage exit.

Al Duhail SC (QAT) v Persepolis FC (IRN)
Venue: Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: February 11, 18:15 UTC+3

Sharjah FC (UAE) v Al Taawoun FC (KSA)
Venue: Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah
Kick-off: February 11, 18:55 UTC+4

Group D

The only West Asia group featuring two AFC Champions League winners, Group D gets underway with two enticing clashes. 2002-03 winners Al Ain host Islamic Republic of Iran’s Sepahan FC, while 2011 champions Al Sadd travel to Riyadh to play Al Nassr.

In the Garden City, hosts Al Ain are looking to erase the dark memories of a 2019 campaign which saw them finish bottom of their group without a win. They have since bolstered their ranks with the likes of Togo international Kodjo Laba and recruited former Al Taawoun boss Pedro Emmanuel.

The Riyadh match, meanwhile, is a repeat of last year’s quarter-final first leg when Al Nassr won 2-1, but it was ultimately Al Sadd who advanced after recording a 3-1 victory in the return leg in Doha to reach the semi-finals.

Al Ain FC (UAE) v Sepahan FC (IRN)
Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: February 11, 18:50 UTC+4

Al Nassr (KSA) v Al Sadd SC (QAT)
Venue: Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh
Kick-off: February 11, 18:15 UTC+3

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