Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema…the ‘superstars’ the K League will meet in the ACL final

Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nasr), Neymar (Al Hilal), Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad).

It wasn’t long ago that these superstars were dominating the UEFA Champions League (UCL), and now they’re taking on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL). It’s not uncommon to see K League teams go head-to-head with them for trophies.

For the first time, the ACL 2023-24 season will be played on the autumnal calendar (fall to spring), and the group draw will be held on April 24 (KST)토토사이트. The group stage will begin on the 18th of next month and will last for nine months until the finals in May next year.

A total of 40 teams will compete in 10 groups of four teams per group. Groups A through E are allocated to West Asia and Groups F through J to East Asia, with West and East Asia not meeting until the final.

Above all, this tournament is the aftermath of Saudi Arabia’s ‘oil money’ that has swept away many stars, and the ACL will have a number of ‘stars’ that can be seen in the UCL.

Neymar of Al-Hilal ⓒ AFP=News1

Alnasr’s Sadio Mane (left). AFP=News1

There are four teams in Saudi Arabia – Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Fayha and Al-Nasr, who made it through the playoffs (PO).

Al-Hilal boasts the likes of Neymar, Robben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Alexander Mitrovic. The roster is loaded with stars who played in the English Premier League (EPL) and Ligue 1 until last season.

The other teams are just as colorful. Benzema, Fabinho, and N’Golo Kante at the Etihad, and Ronaldo, Sadio Mane, Otavio, and Marcelo Brozovic at the Alnasr. All of these stars are more accustomed to the European stage and will be making their first appearance in the ACL.

Backed by a huge amount of power and support, the Saudi teams are vowing to raise the profile of Saudi soccer by taking the top spot in the inaugural tournament, which will be held during the Eid al-Fitr festival.

Pohang Grant celebrates after scoring the equalizer during the 2021 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) quarterfinal match between Ulsan Hyundai and Pohang Steelers at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, South Jeolla Province, on Oct. 20. 2021.10.20/News1 ⓒ News1 By Yoo Kyung-seok

As mentioned earlier, it will be unfortunate for K League teams to not be able to face West Asian clubs with superstars like Ronaldo until the final, but they will have a chance if they make it to the final. The finals will be held on May 11 and 18, home and away.

In the K League, Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Pohang Steelers, and PO qualifier Incheon United will compete in the ACL in 2023-24 with the goal of reaching the top of Asia.

All three teams are championship contenders, with the exception of Incheon, which is making its first appearance since its founding.

Incheon’s Hernandez celebrates with Jerso and Shin Shin-ho after scoring a first-half equalizer in extra time during the AFC Champions League (ACL) 2023-2024 playoff match between Incheon United and Vietnam’s Hai Phong FC at Incheon Football Stadium in Dowon-dong, Jung-gu, Incheon, South Korea, on August 22. 2023.8.22/News1 ⓒ News1 Reporter Park Jung-ho

Ulsan and Jeonbuk are the top seeds, Pohang is the No. 2 seed and Incheon is the No. 4 seed. The best three teams from each of the five groups and the second-best three from each group will earn the eight spots in the round of 16 allocated to East Asia.

Yokohama Mariners, Urawa Reds (Japan), Shandong Taishan (China), and Melbourne City (Australia) are among the contenders to face off against the K League teams.

Since 2009, when up to four teams were allowed to compete, four teams have competed in the league, and Ulsan boasts the most championships in history with 12.

The most recent title was won by Ulsan in 2020, and the team is looking to regain the top spot for the first time in three years.

Players of Ulsan Hyundai celebrate with the trophy after beating Persepolis (Iran) 2-1 to win the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) final in Qatar, in this file photo taken on May 19. Reuters=News1 ⓒ News1 By Lee Dong-won
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