The recent AFC Champions League (ACL) draw for season 2021 has proved to be thrilling for participating clubs with ACL’s defending champion Ulsan Hyundai FC placed in Group F.

The second-time Korean winner will have Thailand’s BG Pathum United, Vietnam’s Viettel FC and a playoff winner for the company in that group.

Image: Xinhua

Last season’s runner-up Persepolis FC of Iran was drawn with Al Rayyan of Qatar, India’s FC Goa and a playoff winner in Group E.

The draw was conducted virtually and streamed live from the AFC House, Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

This year’s competition will be the first to feature 40 teams, an increase from previously 32 teams in the group stage. With that, an additional group is respectively opened for both West and East zones.

The ACL groupings are divided into West and East zones, with Groups A to E for the West Zone teams.

The 2019 champions Al Hilal SFC of Saudi Arabia, Shabab Al Ahli of UAE, FC Istiklol of Tajikistan and a playoff winner were drawn in Group A.

Moreover, Group B comprises UAE’s Sharjah, Iran’s Tractor FC, Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan and a playoff winner while Group C will see Qatar’s Al Duhail SC, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli Saudi, Esteghlal of Iran and Al Shorta of Iraq bidding to advance to the Round of 16.

Qatar’s Al Sadd SC, Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, Al Wehdat of Jordan and a playoff winner were drawn in Group D.

For the East Zone, teams drawn are from Groups F to J.

Group G comprises of Jiangsu FC of China PR, Japan’s Nagoya Grampus, Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and a playoff winner.

Two-time winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of Korea Republic, Japan’s Gamba Osaka, Tampines Rovers of Singapore and Australia’s Sydney FC were drawn in Group H with Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, while two-time champions Guangzhou FC of China, United City FC of Philippines and a playoff winner for Group I.

China’s Shandong Luneng FC, Port FC of Thailand, Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC and a playoff winner were drawn in Group J to complete the East Zone section of the draw.

The 2021 AFC Champions League kicks off with the preliminary stage on April 7.

The group stage is slated to kick off on 14 April and to be played in centralised venues pending announcement from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

THE BRUNEIAN | KUALA LUMPUR

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