Thirty-six teams will go head to head in a bid to assert regional dominance when the AFC Cup 2023/24 Group Stage kicks off for one last time on September 18.
The 19th and final edition of the AFC Cup will see the teams from the Confederation’s five zones play a total of 123 matches before the ultimate champions are crowned in the one-legged Final on May 5, 2024, bringing down the curtains on one of the AFC’s most popular club competitions, characterized by memorable matches and breathtaking action.
The 2024/25 season will see the dawn of a new era in Asian club football with the introduction of a three-tiered structure comprising the 24-team AFC Champions League Elite (ACLE), the second-rung AFC Champions League 2 (ACL2) with 32 teams, and the 20-club final tier, the AFC Challenge League (ACGL).
The action gets underway in Group A on September 18 when 2019 champions Al Ahed FC of Lebanon take on Oman’s Al Nahda at the Seeb Sports Stadium in Muscat, followed by an enticing encounter between Palestine’s Jabal Al Mukaber and Syrian side Al Futuwa SC at a neutral venue, the Prince Mohammed Stadium in Jordan.
Teams in Group C also kick off their AFC Cup campaign on the same day with Iraq’s Al Zawraa SC locking horns with Kuwait’s Al Arabi at the Basra International Stadium, whereas Lebanese powerhouse and 2005 runners-up Nejmeh SC square off against Bahrain’s Al Riffa at Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Manama.
Matches in Group B will commence on September 19 with Jordan’s Al Wehdat facing the challenge of 2010 winners Al Ittihad Al Ahli of Aleppo from Syria at the Amman International Stadium, while Iraq’s Al Kahrabaa SC take on three-time champions Kuwait SC at the Basra International Stadium.
The three Group toppers and best runners-up from the West Zone’s Groups A, B and C will advance to the Zonal Semi-finals.
Over in the South Zone, Group D’s opening match on September 19 pits India’s Odisha FC against compatriots and 2022 Inter-zone Semi-finalists Mohun Bagan Super Giant at Bhubaneshwar’s Kalinga Stadium. The remaining two teams – Maziya Sports & Recreation Club from the Maldives and Bangladesh’s Bashundhara Kings – will face off at the National Football Stadium in Male.
With the first Group E match taking place between Tajikistan’s FC Ravshan and FC Merw of Turkmenistan at the Hisor Central Stadium in Hisor, the Central Zone springs into action on September 21. On the other hand, Kyrgyz Republic’s FC Abdysh-Ata will challenge 2018 runners-up Altyn Asyr FC of Turkmenistan at the Dolen Omurzakov Stadium in Bishkek.
On the same day, matches in the ASEAN Zone will kick off with Group F teams Dynamic Herb Cebu FC of the Philippines and Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Crown FC facing off at 8pm at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Myanmar’s Shan United FC will meet Macarthur FC – the first Australian club to feature in the AFC Cup – at the Thuwunna Football Stadium in Yangon.
Group G will see the second club from Down Under competing on September 20 when the Central Coast Mariners cross paths with Malaysian side Terengganu FC at 8pm at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Terengganu. In the other Group G clash, the Philippines’ Stallion Laguna FC will battle against Bali United of Indonesia at the Binan Football Stadium in Laguna.
Matches in Group H commence on September 21 with Vietnam’s Haiphong FC meeting Indonesia’s PSM Makassar at the Lach Tray Stadium in Haiphong, while Malaysia’s Sabah FC host Hougang United of Singapore at the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu.
The ASEAN Zone, comprising Groups F, G and H, will also see the three group winners and best runners-up qualifying for the Zonal Semi-finals.
Finally, in the East Zone, action will begin on September 21 when Macau’s CPK take on Chinese Taipei’s Taichung Futuro FC in Group I’s opening match at 6pm at the Macau Olympic Stadium, while at the MFF Stadium, Mongolian side FC Ulaanbaatar will settle scores with Chinese Taipei’s Tainan City FC.
The ASEAN Zone winner will then advance to the Inter-zone Semi-finals, where they will be joined by the winning teams from Groups D, E and I in a Knockout Stage draw to determine the two ties for this stage.
The two winners then clash in the Inter-zone Final, with the winning club facing the victors of the West Zonal Final in the AFC Cup 2023/24 Final.
Source: Qatar News Agency