HONG KONG (Reuters) – With the Asian Cup recently added to their trophy cabinet, Qatari soccer is preparing for an all-out assault on the Asian Champions League.
The continental club championship launches today with Doha-based Al Duhail looking to become the first club from west Asia to claim the title since fellow Qataris Al Sadd in 2011.
Al Duhail have already made waves before a ball has been kicked.
Coached by Jose Mourinho’s long-time assistant Rui Faria, Al Duhail have been flaunting their wealth.
Just days after signing Morocco international defender Mehdi Benatia from Juventus, Al Duhail splashed a record $40 million to capture highly-rated Japan international winger Shoya Nakajima from Portugal’s Portimonense.
The fee paid for the 24-year-old eclipsed the $29 million paid by Parma to Roma for two-time Asian Player of the Year Hidetoshi Nakata in 2001, making Nakajima Japan’s most expensive player.
A record-equalling nine wins in a row took Al Duhail to the verge of the 2018 semi-finals.
The squad featured five of the side that would go on to win the Asian Cup for Qatar in the United Arab Emirates, including top scorer Almoez Ali.
Al Duhail are joined by fellow Qataris Al Sadd and Al Rayyan.
Al Rayyan take on two-time winners Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia today in group A while Al Sad face another Saudi side, Al Ahli, in group D tomorrow.
Al Duhail, meanwhile, begin their campaign against Iran’s Esteghlal tomorrow in group C, which also features Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
Japan’s reigning champions Kashima Antlers, who won last year’s two-legged decider against Iranian side Persepolis 2-0, begin their defence against Malaysian debutants Johor Darul Ta’zim on Tuesday.
Urawa Red Diamonds, who won the title in 2017, return after missing the 2018 edition and take on Thailand’s Buriram United in group G.