You are in / Article

Preview - 2021 AFC Champions League: Group C

Jeddah: The seaside bustling Saudi metropole of Jeddah hosts Group C of the 2021 AFC Champions League with local side Al Ahli Saudi FC joined by Iran Pro League giants Esteghlal FC, Iraqi powerhouse Al Shorta and one of Qatar’s most successful sides Al Duhail SC.

In the competition’s expanded format of 40 teams playing in 10 groups, with the group leaders in addition to the top six runners-up qualifying to the Round of 16, competition will be more intense than ever to book a place in the knock-out stage.

See also :

The Venue

King Abdullah Sports City Stadium: The Jewel in the crown of Saudi Arabia’s sporting venues, this 62,000 capacity stadium was opened in 2014 in the city of Jeddah on the western coast of the kingdom.

It plays hosts to matches of the city’s two powerhouses, Al Ittihad and Al Ahli. In its six years of existence, the stadium has hosted major matches such as the 2019 Italian Super Cup, the 2020 Spanish Super Cup as well as other sporting events including WWE.

Key Men

Dudu – Al Duhail SC

Since his arrival at Al Duhail from Brazilian side Palmeiras in the summer of 2020, playmaker Dudu has steadily grown in status at the Qatari club. In the 2020 AFC Champions League, he assisted one goal, created eight chances and made 62 passes ending in the final third, that is 12 more than any other Al Duhail player.

This season, the diminutive Brazilian added goals to his game, leading the club’s scorers in the Qatar Stars League with 12 goals to his name and he will look to build on that form going into his second continental campaign at the club.

Omar Al Somah – Al Ahli Saudi FC

This season might not have been a good one for Al Ahli, as they find themselves seventh in the league table, but that has not prevented Syrian striker Omar Al Somah from continuing to register double-figure goals for the seventh consecutive season since his arrival from Kuwait’s Qadsia SC.

The 32-year-old has now surpassed the 130 goals mark in the league and is also among a select group of strikers with 20+ AFC Champions League goals.

Mehdi Ghaedi – Esteghlal FC

Long touted as the next big name to come out of the Iran Pro League, 22-year-old Mehdi Ghaedi is starting to deliver on his potential as a promising youngster and is becoming an integral part of the Esteghlal side hoping to reach the knockout stage for the fourth time in five years.

In the 2020 AFC Champions League, Ghaedi scored a goal and assisted another. He created seven chances and took seven shots on target, both numbers top of the charts for the club which played in a three-team group after the withdrawal of Al Wahda FSCC.

Gelmin Rivas – Al Shorta SC

Despite only joining Al Shorta in February, Venezuelan forward Gelmin Rivas has slotted in seamlessly at the club and is already their second highest top scorer in the league this season with five goals to his name.

The 32-year-old brings bags of AFC Champions League experience, having already scored 10 goals in the competition with Qatar’s Al Rayyan and Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad. He also represented other big clubs in the region including Al Hilal and Sharjah FC.

Encounters to Watch

There will be an abundance of déjà vu in Group C of the 2021 AFC Champions League as three of the same teams that contested Group A the previous year find themselves pitted together once more.

Al Ahli, Al Shorta and Esteghlal were all in the same group in Doha a few months ago, and at the time the fourth team, Al Wahda, had withdrawn after not being able to travel due to a number of COVID-19 cases at the club. This time around, the trio is complemented by Qatar’s Al Duhail SC.

The margins were so fine last time around that all encounters between the three teams will make for interesting watches. Esteghlal and Al Shorta could not be separated in 180 minutes in 2020, drawing both games 1-1, so they will both be out to get the first three points.

Al Ahli and Esteghlal exchanged wins with the Saudis winning 2-1 in Matchday Two and Esteghlal responding with a 3-0 triumph on the final matchday. They face off again on the opening match of the group with eyes on the points to get them off the mark.

Then there is the special clash between two of the top players in the Arab World and two men who have had very successful, yet vastly different careers so far. Al Duhail centre-back Medhi Benatia made a name for himself in Italy’s Serie A, representing the likes of Juventus, Roma and Udinese and it will be up to him to stop Syria captain Al Soma who has spent the majority of his career at Al Ahli, becoming the club’s and the Saudi Pro League’s all-time top scorer.

Poll ends at 16:00 (UTC+8) on April 13.

Recommended Stories :