x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tough Asian Champions League draw for UAE clubs

Pro League clubs up against it as they aim to reach the knockout stages for first time since 2007.

Al Jazira take on Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal in last season's Champions League. The Pro League champions will be targetting the knockout stages in the 2012 competition.
Al Jazira take on Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal in last season's Champions League. The Pro League champions will be targetting the knockout stages in the 2012 competition.

Four Pro League clubs were in the pot when the draw for the next year's Asian Champions League (ACL) group stages was made yesterday in Kuala Lumpur.

No UAE clubs have made it past the group stage since the competition took its current format three seasons ago.

Baniyas have the toughest group as they have been paired with the Saudi giants Al Ittihad, who reached the semi-finals of the 2011 competition, as well as Pakhtakor, who finished second in the Uzbekistan league, and Al Arabi of Qatar.

Dubai's Al Nasr also have a stern test ahead against Sepahan - the Iranian champions quarter-finalists last time - Saudi's Al Ahli and Lekhwiya, the Qatari champions.

Al Jazira, the Pro League champions, face Al Rayyan (Qatar), Nasaf (Uzbekistan) and the winner of a qualifying play-off likely to come from Iran or Saudi Arabia.

The fourth UAE representatives are Al Shabab. They face a two-legged play-off in February against Neftchi of Uzbekistan, with the winners going into Group D along with Piroozi (Iran) and Al Gharafa (Qatar) as well as Saudi champions Al Hilal.

In the East Asian side of the draw, newly crowned Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol were handed a tough debut as they landed in a "group of death" including this year's runners-up, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Kashiwa, who sealed the J-League title with a last-gasp win on Saturday, were also drawn against Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande, who boast the country's most expensive player, and the yet-to-be-confirmed Thailand champions.

Last month, Jeonbuk missed out on their second Champions League title by a whisker as they went down to Qatar's Al Sadd on penalties.

And Guangzhou, boosted by Argentine midfielder Dario Conca — reportedly one of the world's best-paid footballers — swept to their first ever Chinese title last season by a yawning margin of 15 points.

Kashiwa also head into their first Club World Cup this week after making history by becoming the first team to win Japan's second and first divisions in consecutive seasons.

Al Sadd missed out on the chance of defending their crown after finishing sixth in the Qatari Stars league last season.

The first round of group stage matches will be played on March 20/21, 2012.