Star players take their games west in the Asian Champions League

Seoul, South Korea ( Associated Press) — Over the past decade, famous players such as James Rodriguez, Odion Ighalo and Santo Cazorla would have been expected to play in the Asian Champions League for cash-up Chinese clubs. But before the start of Thursday, most of the big names are to be found in the western part of the continent.

After just one championship win from West Asian teams from 2005 to 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal have won two of the last three continental titles and are particularly favorites as clubs from China, who have spent the last decade did. Struggling financially.

“Al-Hilal are a great club with a history of winning the trophy and are the Asian champions,” said Ighalo, who arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2021 from Manchester United earlier this week. “There are great players here and this is a team that always wants to win at home and abroad.”

Nigerian international plays with Moussa Marega and Matthias Pereira were signed last year for FC Porto in Portugal and West Bromwich Albion of the English Premier League, as well as several Saudi Arabian internationals.

Al-Hilal as well as fellow Saudi Pro League clubs Al-Shabab, Al-Tawaun and Al-Faisli’s prospects have improved as all five groups in the western half are hosted in Saudi Arabia this month to reduce travel. is going. In the ongoing pandemic.

Colombia’s Rodriguez joined Qatar’s Al-Rayan in September from English top tier club Everton, and despite the team struggling in the league, the former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich star has so far scored four runs in 12 games and seven. assisted.

Qatar’s challenge is expected to come from continental champions Al-Sadd in 2011, and former Arsenal forward Santi Cazorla as well as Al-Duhail appointed former Argentina international Hernán Crespo as coach in March.

“The club has completed all procedures for the signing of new head coach Hernán Crespo, who will begin preparing the team for participation in the AFC Champions League,” the club said in a statement.

Iran’s chances of winning the tournament for the first time have been affected as Persepolis and Esteghalal, the country’s two biggest clubs, were expelled in January for failing to meet the criteria required to participate in the tournament.

The tournament is divided into two geographic regions until the final – the eastern region of the Champions League – starting on April 15. Thailand will host three groups from East Asia, while Vietnam and Malaysia will host one each.

Chinese teams are struggling financially as well as with scheduling commitments, which has led to Changchun Yatai withdrawing and sending weaker teams to Guangzhou FC, Shanghai Port and Shandong.

This leaves South Korea and Japan as the best hopes from the east, each with four delegates. Ulsan Hyundai Horangi and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who have won two titles each, were leading the Japan challenge with Vissel Kobe, Kawasaki Frontel and Yokohama F. Looking forward to working with Marino.

Sydney FC and Melbourne City have the difficult task of repairing Australia’s poor record in the competition, which has seen only one team progress through the group stage since 2016.

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