The Gaurs will start their campaign on April 14 and are pitted against last year’s runners-up
The draw for the AFC Champions League group stages was held today in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, throwing up some interesting groups and good clashes. The 2021 edition will witness for the first time, 40 teams that will compete for the biggest prize in club football in the APAC region.
In another historic first, an Indian club will feature in the AFC Champions League’s group stages, which would be FC Goa. Through their stellar efforts last season, Goa finished at the top of the league standings in the regular season and thereby made history as the first team to make it to the group stages of the continent’s top club competition.
The Gaurs have since lost most of their squad and their previous coach who led them to this historic moment, but will count on the current group to make a mark in their maiden appearance in the tournament.
But, Juan Ferrando and his men won’t be offered a bed of roses upon their opening bow, as they have been drawn in a difficult Group E, alongside last season’s runners-up Persepolis FC and Al-Rayyan of Qatar. The Qatar-based side are managed by former PSG boss Laurent Blanc and also feature Gabriel Mercado who represented Argentina in the 2016 Copa America Centenario and the 2018 World Cup. They would also be joined by a fourth team decided by the winners of the playoff between Al Wahda of the UAE or Al Zawraa of Iraq.
Defending champions Ulsan Hyundai have been slotted in Group F, with Thailand’s Pathum United and Vietnamese club Viettel FC along with a playoff winner. The joint-record winners Al-Hilal find their place in Group A, with Shabab Al Ahli of the UAE and FC Istiklol from Tajikistan along with a playoff winner from the first playoff.
Their league counterparts Shandong Luneng who have Marouane Fellaini in their ranks will feature in Group J against Port FC from Thailand, Kitchee FC from Hong Kong. They will be joined by playoff winners from the second playoff between Cerezo Osaka and one among the preliminary game winners between Melbourne City FC and Shan United FC from Malaysia.
Guangzhou Evergrande managed by Fabio Cannavaro start their campaign in Group I against United City FC from the Philippines and Kawasaki Frontale from Japan, along with a playoff winner between Al-Hilal’s fellow record-winners Pohang Steelers or Ratchaburi FC from Thailand.
Record Qatar Stars League winners Al-Sadd led by Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez and with Santi Cazorla among their ranks find themselves in Group D with Saudi club Al-Nassr, Jordanian club Al-Wehdat and the winners of the third playoff match.
The AFC Champions League starts with the preliminary stage consisting of two games between four teams who will compete against each other to grab a spot in the East’s playoff contests. The team’s eventually winning their respective playoffs will make it to the group stage and round off the other spots in the respective groups. The preliminary stages in the East and the Playoff Stages for the West are scheduled to begin from 7th April. The group stages are set to begin from April 14th.
All matches of the 2021 AFC Champions League are to be held at centralized venues under strict protocols owing to the danger posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.