Cristiano Ronaldo’s Saudi Pro League side Al Nassr will kick off their Asian Champions League bid in Tehran against Iran’s Persepolis next month, while Neymar will head to Uzbekistan with his new Al Hilal side.

Al Nassr, who qualified through the play-offs will also play Qatar’s Al Duhail and FC Istiklol from Tajikistan in the group stage.

Four-time winners Al Hilal, who signed Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain last week in an £80million ($102m; €94m) deal, will start their challenge against Navbahor of Uzbekistan, before taking on Iran’s FC Nassaji Mazandaran and Mumbai City from India.

Former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and his new Al Ittihad team-mates will take on Air Force Club in Baghdad, Iraq, as well as travelling to Iran and Uzbekistan.

The current Asian Champions League holders, Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, will take on Chinese champions Wuhan Three Towns in their group.

The group phase of the 2023-24 continental competition kicks off on September 18, with clubs divided into five groups each in the western and eastern regions.

Winners of the 10 groups will advance to the knockout rounds, alongside the three best runners-up in the western and eastern halves of the draw.

Those knockout rounds start on February 12, 2024, with the final — played between the best club from respective sides of the continent — to be held over two legs on May 11 and 18.

2023-24 Asian Champions League group stage draw

Group A: Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan), Al Fayha (Saudi Arabia), Ahal FC (Turkmenistan), Al Ain (United Arab Emirates)

Group B: Al Sadd (Qatar), FC Nasaf (Uzbekistan), Al Faisaly (Jordan), Sharjah FC (United Arab Emirates)

Group C: Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia), Sepahan (Iran), Air Force Club (Iraq), AGMK FC (Uzbekistan)

Group D: Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia), FC Nassaji Mazandaran (Iran), Mumbai City (India), Navbahor (Uzbekistan)

Group E: Persepolis (Iran), Al Duhail (Qatar), FC Istiklol (Tajikistan), Al Nassr (Saudi Arabia)

Group F: Jeonbuk Motors (South Korea), Bangkok United (Thailand), Lion City Sailors (Singapore), Kitchee (Hong Kong)

Group G: Yokohama F Marinos (Japan), Shandong Taishan (China), Kaya FC-Iloilo (Philippines), Incheon United (South Korea)

Group H: Buriram United (Thailand), Ventforet Kofu (Japan), Melbourne City (Australia), Zhejiang FC (China)

Group I: Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea), Kawasaki Frontale (Japan), Johor Darul Ta’zim (Malaysia), BG Pathum United (Thailand)

Group J: Wuhan Three Towns (China), Pohang Steelers (South Korea), Hanoi FC (Vietnam), Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan)

Qualification for Club World Cup in United States at stake

The Urawa Red Diamonds have qualified for the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup — held in Saudi Arabia between 12-22 December — by winning the 2022 Asian Champions League.

The 2023 Club World Cup is the last seven-team tournament before an expanded 32-team version takes place in the United States in 2025.

Whoever wins the 2023-24 Asian Champions League will book a spot at the bumper new tournament — exact dates for which are still to be confirmed.

The Asian Football Confederation has been given four access slots for 2025, for the most recent winners of the Asian Champions League.

Al Hilal (2021) and Urawa Red Diamonds (2022) will be joined by whoever triumphs in the 2023-24 version of the club competition. In the event a club wins two or more editions of the confederation’s premier club competition during the 2021-2024 period, FIFA says that a club ranking system will be used to grant access.

Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester City from UEFA and Monterrey, Seattle Sounders, Leon from CONCACAF are among the other sides who have booked their places for the 2025 Club World Cup.



US to host first 32-team FIFA Club World Cup in 2025

(Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)