Asian Champions League draw: Al Hilal set for Dubai trip to face Shabab Al Ahli in Group B

Elsewhere, UAE champions Sharjah have been handed a difficult group upon their return to the competition for the first time since 2009

Members of Al-Hilal celebrate their victory and Asian club title on the pitch following their 2-0 victory in the second leg of the AFC Champions League final football match between Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds and Saudi’s Al-Hilal in Saitama on November 24, 2019. / AFP / Behrouz MEHRI
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Champions Al Hilal will travel to Dubai early next year for the defence of their Asian Champions League crown after the draw for the group stage was made on Tuesday.

The Saudi side, one of the most popular clubs on the continent, captured the trophy last month for the first time since the tournament rebrand, ending a 19-year wait for the title.

At Tuesday's draw in Kuala Lumpur, Hilal were placed in Group B alongside 2015 runners-up Shabab Al Ahli, Uzbek side Pakhtakor and the winner of the West Play-off 3.

Hilal will face Shabab Al Ahli in Dubai on February 17, on Matchday 2. They open their defence away to the winner of the play-off, which will not be decided until January 28. Qatar’s Al Sailiya have already confirmed their place as one of its two teams.

Hilal defeated Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds 3-0 on aggregate in this year's final, with the 2-0 victory in the return leg in Saitama sealing a famous triumph. The success earned the Riyadh side a spot in this month's Fifa Club World Cup. They begin their quest for that trophy on Saturday, in the second round against African champions Esperance de Tunis.

Elsewhere, UAE champions Sharjah have been handed a difficult group upon their return to the competition for the first time since 2009. Last season’s Arabian Gulf League winners, who currently lead the standings again, have been drawn in Group C with Qatar’s Al Duhail, Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun and last year’s runners-up, Persepolis of Iran.

The draw for the group stage of the 2020 Asian Champions League draw. AFC

In contrast, Al Wahda’s path to the knockout stages remains unclear. The Abu Dhabi club were one of only two teams confirmed for Group A and thus await the results of the play-offs to determine who else they will face. Saudi heavyweights Al Ahli are expected to feature.

Meanwhile, 2016 runners-up Al Ain must come through their own play-off, against either Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor or Syria’s Al Zawraa at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on January 28.

Should Al Ain advance, they will enter Group D with Al Nassr and Al Sadd - champions of Saudi and Qatar, respectively - and Iran’s Sepahan.