Al Duhail and Al Shorta will both be aiming for three points when they face off in their opening 2021 AFC Champions League Group C match at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah Thursday. With only the group winners assured of advancing into the Round of 16, both will have little margin for error in a pool that also includes Iran’s Esteghlal and Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli.
Al Duhail head into the tournament off a domestic season which saw them relinquishing their tag as Qatar Stars League champions, with Al Sadd clinching the title in resounding fashion. Sabri Lamouchi’s Al Duhail finished second, a whopping 13 points behind Al Sadd, and will be hoping to make an impact in the 2021 AFC Champions League after having missed out on the knockout stage last year. In their ninth successive AFC Champions League group stage, the Almoez Ali-powered Al Duhail’s previous best was making the quarter-finals in 2013, 2015 and 2018.
“Our first goal is to advance from the group stage,” Lamouchi declared. “We have been preparing for the last three weeks and we had a lot of good matches. Covid-19 has affected football for more than a year but now we have adapted and are ready for everything. The group is strong and there will be big competition. Al Ahli have good Asian experience but we want to advance from the group and to do so, we must make a good start tomorrow.”
Iraq’s Al Shorta head into the tournament 10 points off the pace in the Iraqi Premier League, a title they won in 2019 and are defending after the last season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There was, however, cheer for them in the 2019 AFC Champions League with Al Shorta recording their first win in the tournament since it was rebranded. The win wasn’t enough to take them into the Round of 16 then and Al Shorta will be targetting to change that this time around.
Al Shorta head coach Aleksandar Ilic said his team are determined to hit the ground running. “It is very important to have good performances in all the matches and if we do so, then the results will eventually come. The group is difficult and our first match will be against a strong team,” said Ilic.
“We will try our best to prepare the players to be ready for the matches which are going to be played in a tight period. The match schedule is very heavy and this means that we should be prepared physically.”
Esteghlal, Al Ahli Saudi
target early League cheer
There will be a feeling of deja vu when Esteghlal FC square off against Al Ahli Saudi FC in another Group C match today, The two met at the same stage last season with Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli winning 2-1 on Matchday Two and Esteghlal of of Iran responding with a 3-0 triumph on the final matchday.
Both advanced to the knockout stage, with Al Ahli’s campaign ending in the quarter-finals while Esteghlal exited the competition in the Round of 16.
Both will be hoping for better fortunes in their latest campaign, with Esteghlal coming into the tournament on the back of some decent form in the Iran Pro League. Farhad Majidi’s side are third in the Iran Pro League, seven points behind co-leaders Persepolis FC and Sepahan, but still very much in the title race.
Al Ahli are out of the running in the Saudi Pro League with Laurentiu Reghecampf’s side seventh in the standings. Al Ahli, however, are an experienced side and the AFC Champions League could well be the perfect setting for them to prove their quality.
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