Kuala Lumpur, Aug 13, IRNA -- The finger of fortune pointed towards
Jordan when the draw for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions
League was made, with the honor of hosting the historic first match falling
to the eight-time league winners Al Wihdat, who take on Al Nejmeh of Lebanon
The AFC Champions League replaces the Asian Club, the Asian Cup Winners' Cup
and the Asian Super Cup tournaments.
Eight teams will progress from the qualifying rounds in east and west Asia
to join the seeded teams in the group stages next March.
There will be four groups, two in West Asia and two in East Asia, with the
winners going into the semi-finals in April.
The eight seeded teams are Asian powerhouse Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia, the
winners of the last Asian Cup Winners Cup, Japanese hotshots Kashima
Antlers, United Arab Emirates' Al Ain which is coached by Bruno Metsu, the
former Senegal World Cup coach, BEC Tero of Thailand, Iran's Pirouzi, Al
Talaba of Iraq, Seongnam of Korea
Republic and powerful Dalian Shide of China.
AFC said for both Al-Wihdat and Al-Nejmeh, their historic opening encounter
of the AFC Champions resulted in a groundswell of excitement not just in
Jordan and Lebanon.
"The football temperature in the Middle East has really arisen as the rest
of the AFC membership there eagerly await the outcome of the match," it said
in a statement on Monday.
The opening Champions League match will be played at the majestic King
Abdullah II Stadium in Amman.
The return leg will take place on Aug 28 at the Beirut Municipal Stadium.
AFC said Al Wihdat, who were runners-up in the Jordanian league last season,
will be counting on the home support of the 17,000 capacity crowds to give
them that extra 12th man on the field.
Al-Wihdat, the seven-time league champions are in good form as evident from
the 11 goals scored in their first two league matches this season.
The winners of the Al-Wihdat and Al-Nejmeh clash will take on Pakhtakor of
Uzbekistan in the second round of qualifying in Sept.
The AFC Champions League has got even FIFA excited. FIFA President Sepp
Blatter has described the tournament as a wonderful initiative from the AFC
and a great step forward.
"The AFC Champions League will greatly enhance club football in Asia. As we
saw with the display of Korea Republic at the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan
2002, Asian football at an international level is on
the rise. "This competition will help raise the standard of club, and
international football in Asia, even further," he said.
AFC General Secretary Peter Velappan concurred. "The AFC Champions League
will create a new image for football in Asia and at the same time herald the
dawn of a new era for the sport in the region."
The first match in the east zone will kick-off between Sri Lanka Air Force
versus New Radiant of Maldives at Sugathadasa Stadium on Sept 10. The second
match on Sept 11 will also feature another Sri Lankan side, Saunders of Sri
Lanka, taking on Mohun Bagan of India.