Former champions Al Sadd has been placed in Group E of the 2022 AFC Champions League group stage at the official draw in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.
Qatar’s Al Sadd, winners of the title back in 2011, face off against debutant Al Faisaly from Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s Al Wehdat and the winners of the playoff featuring Baniyas of the UAE and Nasaf Qarshi in the Group.
It’s a comparatively easier path for Al Sadd, who have had a difficult time making a mark in the competition since their triumph in 2011. They went out in the group phase of the 2021 tournament but had defeated Al Wehdat in both their meetings.
Al Faisaly, who qualified by winning the 2020-21 King’s Cup, have been struggling in the Saudi Pro League, placed in 14th spot just past the half-way stage this season. As such, Sadd should be favoured to clinch a knockout berth from the group.
Qatar’s Al Duhail drawn in Group D along with Iran’s Sepahan, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and the play-off winner between Al Taawoun of Saudi Arabia and Syria’s Al Jaish.
Duhail also failed to progress past the group phase in 2021. While they should fancy their chances against Sepahan, a tough physical test awaits them against Pakhtakor.
Al Rayyan, who too had a poor run in the 2021 edition, finishing last in their group, have landed in a tough Group A, that includes four-time winners Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan’s Istiklol and the winner of the play-off between UAE’s Sharjah and Iraqi side Al Zawraa.
Rayyan will struggle to progress past the group stage, considering their current form in the QNB Stars League, where they are in eighth position after 13 rounds.
Defending champions Al Hilal have been handed the opportunity to avenge a shock loss at the hands of Tajikistan’s Istiklol in last year’s league after the pair were drawn together.
Istiklol, making their debut appearance in the competition, thrashed the Saudi side 4-1 in the group stages in Riyadh last year and finished ahead of their more illustrious opponents to qualify for the knockout rounds.
Al Hilal advanced to the last 16 as one of the three best runners-up in the west Asian side of the draw and put the defeat behind them by going on to beat South Korea’s Pohang Steelers in the final to become the first four-time Asian club champions.
Al Gharafa, who earned a direct berth after the AFC barred Iranian clubs Persepolis and Esteghlal, are in Group C with Foolad Khouzestan of Iran, 2015 finalists Shabab Al Ahli of the UAE and Ahal FC of Turkmenistan.
Reigning Indian Super League (ISL) champions Mumbai City FC has been placed in Group B of the West region. Mumbai City have been drawn alongside Al Jazeera of the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab and Air Force Club of Iraq.
Mumbai City became only the second Indian club to be competing at Asia’s biggest football competition. They qualified for the 2022 AFC Champions League by winning the ISL 2020-21 League Winners’ Shield.
Matches in the four West Asian groups will be held from April 7 to 27 while the knockout matches will be in February 2023.
Ten group winners (five from West and five from East) and six best runners-up (three each from West and East) qualify for the knockout phase.
Elsewhere, two-time winners Guangzhou FC will take on Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale in Group I alongside Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and a qualifier.
South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors, who won the title in 2006 and 2016, take on Yokohama F Marinos from Japan, Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai and a playoff winner in Group H.
Urawa, who last won the title in 2017, return to the competition after a two-year absence and are joined in Group F by Chinese Super League champions Shandong Taishan, Lion City Sailors from Singapore and a playoff winner.
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