Neymar And Benzema Set For Debut In Asian Champions League Matches
Saudi Pro League superstar Neymar is set to make his debut in the Asian Champions League, representing Al-Hilal, last season’s runners-up. The draw for the group stage placed them against Nassaji Mazandaran FC from Iran, Mumbai City FC from India, and Navbahor from Uzbekistan.
Joining the fray are Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Ittihad’s Karim Benzema, both making their first appearances in the group stage of Asia’s premier club football competition. These high-profile players will strive to lead their teams to victory against opponents spanning from central to east Asia.
Saudi Arabia’s significant oil wealth has fueled a sports investment spree, with the country aiming to diversify its economy, attract tourism, and encourage investment. Al-Hilal, holding the record for the most AFC Champions League titles with four wins, aims to secure their fifth title with the addition of Neymar for the 2023-24 season.
Al-Nassr, a semi-finalist in the 2020 and 2021 editions, will contend with Iran’s Persepolis FC, Qatar’s Al-Duhail SC, and Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol. Al-Ittihad, the Saudi Pro League champions, is eyeing their first Asian Champions League title since their back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2005, bolstered by the acquisitions of French stars Benzema and N’Golo Kante.
Defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan are competing from the eastern division and will face challenges from China’s Wuhan Three Towns FC, South Korea’s Pohang Steelers, and Vietnam’s Hanoi FC.
Secretary-general Windsor John noted the competitiveness of the qualified teams, emphasizing the absence of easy matches. Additionally, a video assistant referee (VAR) system will be introduced from the group stage onward. The group stage is scheduled from September 18 to December 13, followed by the knockout stage starting on February 12. The final, played over two legs, is slated for May 11 and 18, 2024.