Kuala Lumpur: Defending champions Al Hilal SFC will face Tajikistan’s Istiklol in the Group Stage of the 2022 AFC Champions League, marking the second time in successive seasons the pair have faced off in the continental club championship.
Qatar’s Al Rayyan and the winners of the playoff between Sharjah from the United Arab Emirates and Iraqi side Al Zawraa round out Group A after the draw was completed in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, but many eyes will be on the clash between the four-time champions and the club from Dushanbe.
Istiklol scored a surprise 4-1 win when the teams met in their second encounter of the group phase in 2021, and that victory ensured the Tajik club won Group A ahead of Al Hilal to advance to the knockout rounds.
Al Hilal, however, brushed off the disappointment of that loss to go on and win the title, defeating FC Pohang Steelers in the final to become the first club ever to win Asia’s premier competition on four occasions.
Meanwhile, tournament debutants Mumbai City from India have been drawn in Group B alongside Al Jazeera from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab and three-time AFC Cup winners Air Force Club of Iraq.
Group C is headlined by Foolad Khouzestan from the Islamic Republic of Iran and 2015 finalists Shabab Al Ahli Dubai as well as Qatar’s Al Gharafa and Ahal FC of Turkmenistan.
Iranian side Sepahan, who reached the final of the 2007 edition, will take on Al Duhail from Qatar as well as two-time semi-finalists Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan and the winners of the playoff between Al Taawon from Saudi Arabia and Syrians Al Jaish in Group D.
Qatar’s Al Sadd, winners of the title back in 2011, face off against Al Faisaly from Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s Al Wehdat and the winners of the playoff featuring Baniyas of the UAE and Nasaf Qarshi in Group E.
In the eastern half of the draw, Kim Do-hoon, who steered Ulsan Hyundai to the 2020 AFC Champions League title, will lead Singapore’s Lion City Sailors into action in Group F.
There his side will face a stiff challenge against two-time AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan as well as Chinese Super League champions Shandong Taishan and the winners of the playoff between Korean side Daegu FC and Thailand’s Buriram United.
Australia’s Melbourne City make their first appearance in the group phase in Group G and will take on Thailand’s BG Pathum United, Korean FA Cup winners Jeonbuk Dragons and United City FC from the Philippines.
Another two-time winner, Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, will face off against Yokohama F Marinos from Japan in Group H as well as taking on Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai and the winners of the playoffs featuring Kaya-Iloilo FC from the Philippines, an as-yet undetermined Australian qualifier or China PR’s Changchun Yatai.
Kawasaki Frontale, who won the J1 League title for the fourth time in five seasons last year, meet eight-time Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou FC in Group I plus Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim and the winners of the playoff between former champions Ulsan Hyundai and Port FC.
Group J will be headlined by former semi-finalists Shanghai Port from China PR, where they will meet Thailand’s Chiangrai United, Kitchee FC from Hong Kong and either Vissel Kobe from Japan, Shan United from Myanmar or an as-yet undetermined club from Australia.