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Wihdat seek ACL qualification

By Aline Bannayan - Jan 30,2017 - Last updated at Jan 30,2017

AMMAN — Reigning league champs Wihdat will play India’s Bengaluru FC at 6:00pm on Tuesday in the first preliminary round match of the premier Asian competition, the 2017 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.

The Jordanian champions aim to advance past their guests to play the UAE’s Wihda in the play-off stage, slated for February 7, before qualifying to play in Round 1.

“We have studied our opponents well, they were last year’s AFC Cup runners-up and we cannot underestimate the team. Our line-up is now complete and we aim to advance,” Wihdat coach Adnan Hamad told the media following practice.

Wihdat were Jordan’s representative in the 2016 ACL edition and were knocked out in the preliminary round by Saudi Arabia’s Ittihad Jeddah. In 2015, they lost to former title-holders Kuwait’s Qadissieh. In 2014 Shabab Urdun were eliminated by Bahrain’s Al Hidd.

Alongside aspirations for the professional league title, which restarts next week, Cup champs Ahli will represent Jordan in the AFC Cup — the second-tier Asian club competition this year. Ahli were drawn to play in Group C alongside Iraq’s Zawra, Syria’s Jeish and a qualifier from Oman or Palestine starting February 20, with clubs from across the continent competing in eight groups from the five Asian Zones, the top two from each group going on to the Round of 16. 

If Wihdat advance past the ACL preliminary round, Jazira will join Ahli in the AFC Cup. On the other hand, should Wihdat be again eliminated from the ACL early round, they will move to play in the AFC Cup alongside Ahli, who will be playing the event for the first time.

The 2017 AFC Champions League is the 36th edition of Asia’s premier club football tournament organised by the AFC, and the 15th under the current AFC Champions League title. Forty-seven teams will be competing this year and the winner will qualify as the AFC representatives at the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE. South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are the defending champions, but they were excluded from the 2017 AFC Champions League due to a bribery scandal in the domestic K League. 

In 2016, Jordanian clubs were absent from advanced stages of Asian competitions as Wihdat and Faisali were knocked out of the AFC Cup in the Round of 16. In 2015, Wihdat and Jazira were also eliminated in the Round of 16 with Jazira, who finished runners-up in the Jordan League, participating in the event after two-time AFC Cup champs Faisali declined. In 2014, Jordan Cup champs That Ras exited the Round of 16 in their inaugural AFC participation, while former AFC Cup champs Shabab Urdun exited in Round 1. 

The AFC Cup was won by Syria’s Jeish in its inaugural edition in 2004. The event was won three times by Jordanian clubs: Faisali won titles in 2005 and 2006, and Shabab Urdun won in 2007.

The local season opened with Ahli making history when they beat reigning league champs Wihdat 2-1 to win the 34th Super Cup – the first major competition on the 2016/17 football calendar. Although they are a founding member of the game in Jordan, Ahli had never won the Super Cup. They were relegated to Division 1 in 2004 for the first time in their history and were back among the Pro League clubs in 2014, finished fifth in 2014/15 and third in 2015/16 in the Premier League when they were also the best overall team, and won the Jordan Cup after years in the backstage. 

On the other hand, Wihdat now trail Jazira in Leg 1 of the Jordan Professional Football League. For the past three seasons, Wihdat have won the league title for the 15th time overall since they moved up to the league in 1975.

Winning ACL Arab clubs

1989Al Sadd (Qatar)

1992Hilal (Saudi Arabia)

2000Hilal (Saudi Arabia)

2003Al Ain (UAE)

2004Ittihad (Saudi Arabia)

2005Ittihad (Saudi Arabia)

2011Al Sadd (Qatar)

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