1151 GMT March 31, 2020
No fewer than nine former Asian champions will be among the sides vying to write a new chapter in the tournament's history, while games will now take place over three days in a change to the previous two-day format, the-afc.com reported.
The first round of fixtures will take place tomorrow with a mouthwatering clash between 2015 runner-up Al Ahli of the UAE and two-time Asian champions Iran’s Esteghlal the pick of the day in Group A.
Al Ahli narrowly missed out on winning the 2015 competition after suffering a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande in the final, while Esteghlal returns for the first time since 2014 having seen off Al Sadd on penalties following a scoreless draw to advance via the playoffs.
Elsewhere in Group A, 2016 quarterfinalist Lokomotiv will be hosted by Saudi Arabian debutant Al Taawoun on the back of producing its best performance to date in the continental tournament.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group A
Al Ahli (UAE) vs. Esteghlal (IRN)
Venue: Rashid Stadium, Dubai
Kickoff: February 20, 20:15 UTC+4
Al Taawoun (KSA) vs. Lokomotiv (UZB)
Venue: King Abdullah Stadium, Buraidah
Kickoff: February 20, 18:40 UTC +3
Earlier on Monday, another debutant, Esteghlal Khuzestan of Iran, will open the competition in Group B by taking on Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh, whose only previous appearance came in 2014.
Esteghlal Khuzestan caused a major upset by claiming its maiden Iran Persian Gulf Pro League title last year and has a recent history that mirrors that of its opponent, which did likewise in winning its first and only Saudi Professional League championship in 2013.
Also in Group B, two-time quarterfinalist Lekhwiya will welcome Al Jazira of the UAE with the visitor boasting the recently acquired Brazilian Leonardo — who netted twice in Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ 3-2 aggregate victory over Al Ain in last year's final — within its ranks.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group B
Esteghlal Khuzestan (IRN) vs. Al Fateh (KSA)
Venue: Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Muscat
Kickoff: February 20, 15:00 UTC +4
Lekhwiya (QAT) vs. Al Jazira (UAE)
Venue: Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha
Kickoff: February 20, 16:50 UTC +3
Al Ain will attempt to bounce back from the disappointment of its final defeat to Jeonbuk when it hosts 2010 runner-up Iran’s Zob Ahan Esfahan in Group C on Tuesday — a repeat of last year’s Round of 16 clash.
As ever, the home side will look to its talisman, 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman, to lead it to victory but the Emiratis will be aware that Zob Ahan Esfahan will be no pushover after the Iranian side claimed a 1-1 draw on its last visit to Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
And perennial qualifier Bunyodkor, which again advanced via the playoffs to secure its 10th consecutive appearance, travel to Jeddah to take on Christian Gross’s Al Ahli to round off the fixtures in the West.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group C
Al Ain (UAE) vs. Zob Ahan Esfahan (IRN)
Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kickoff: February 21, 19:15 UTC +4
Al Ahli (KSA) vs. Bunyodkor (UZB)
Venue: King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah
Kickoff: February 21, 20:15 UTC +3
In Group D, Iranian heavyweight Persepolis returns to the mix after missing out in 2016 and will open its campaign against two-time continental champion Al Hilal also on Tuesday.
Despite boasting an impressive record domestically, Persepolis has yet to progress beyond the Round of 16 on the continent, while Al Hilal will be aiming to better its own last-16 performance from 2016 when it was ousted by Lokomotiv.
Qatar Stars League champion Al Rayyan, under the guidance of Michael Laudrup, meanwhile, hosts Al Wahda of the UAE with the teams’ last appearance in the AFC Champions League coming in 2014 and 2011 respectively.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group D
Persepolis (IRN) vs. Al Hilal (KSA)
Venue: Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Muscat
Kickoff: February 21, 19:00 UTC +4
Al Rayyan (QAT) vs. Al Wahda (UAE)
Venue: Jassim bin Hammad Stadium, Doha
Kickoff: February 21, 18:15 UTC +3
Over in the East and in Group E on Tuesday, Japan takes on Korea Republic as J. League giant Kashima Antlers welcomes 2012 champion Ulsan Hyundai, which required a penalty shootout victory to scrape past Hong Kong’s Kitchee and advance to its first Group Stage since 2014.
After conquering Shanghai Shenhua in the playoff round, Brisbane Roar’s next task will be to overcome Thailand’s Muangthong United, with both teams seeking to progress beyond the Group Stage for the first time.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group E
Kashima Antlers (JPN) vs. Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)
Venue: Kashima Soccer Stadium, Ibaraki
Kickoff: February 21, 19:00 UTC +9
Brisbane Roar (AUS) vs. Muangthong United (THA)
Venue: Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane
Kickoff: February 21, 20:00 UTC +11
Also on Tuesday, there is a battle of former champions as 2014 winner Western Sydney Wanderers hosts 2007 victor Urawa Red Diamonds in Group F.
After claiming the continental title on its maiden appearance, the Australian side was ousted in the Group Stage a year later before missing out in 2016, while Urawa suffered penalty shootout heartbreak against FC Seoul in the Round of 16 last year.
FC Seoul, meanwhile, will take on Shanghai SIPG in Tuesday’s other Group F clash as the 2016 semifinalist and the big-spending Chinese outfit go head-to-head in one of the week’s most eagerly anticipated clashes.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group F
Western Sydney Wanderers (AUS) vs. Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)
Venue: Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
Kickoff: February 21, 19:00 UTC +11
FC Seoul (KOR) vs. Shanghai SIPG (CHN)
Venue: Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul
Kickoff: February 21, 19:30 UTC +9
Wednesday sees two AFC Champions League firsts in Group G as Eastern SC becomes Hong Kong’s maiden representative, while Chan Yuen-ting will become the first female to coach in the competition.
Chan couldn’t have been given a tougher start, though, as Eastern will make the short trip across the border to take on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s two-time winner Guangzhou Evergrande, with the Chinese side looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 showing.
Two-time Asian champion Suwon Samsung Bluewings, meanwhile, travels to Kawasaki Frontale in Wednesday’s other Group G clash in a tie that sees the home side return to the tournament for the first time since 2014.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group G
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) vs. Eastern SC (HKG)
Venue: Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou
Kickoff: February 22, 20:00 UTC +8
Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) vs. Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR)
Venue: Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium, Kawasaki
Kickoff: February 22, 19:00 UTC +9
Group H will kick off with a repeat of the 2008 final as Adelaide United hosts Gamba Osaka. The Japanese side claimed a resounding 5-0 aggregate victory over two legs nine years ago, although four years later Adelaide gained some revenge by winning home and away against Gamba on its way to topping Group E.
And finally, Korea Republic’s Jeju United opens only its second ever AFC Champions League campaign with a home tie against China’s Jiangsu FC, itself making just its third appearance in the continental competition.
AFC Champions League: Meet the teams in Group H
Adelaide United (AUS) vs. Gamba Osaka (JPN)
Venue: Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide
Kickoff: February 22, 19:30 UTC +10:30
Jeju United (KOR) vs. Jiangsu FC (CHN)
Venue: Jeju World Cup Stadium, Jeju
Kickoff: February 22, 20:00 UTC + 9