02/18/2017 | News release | Distributed by Public on 02/17/2017 11:15
No fewer than nine former Asian champions will be among the sides vying to write a new chapter in the tournament's history, while games will now take place over three days in a change to the previous two-day format.
The first round of fixtures will take place on Monday with a mouthwatering clash between 2015 runners-up Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates and two-time Asian champions Esteghlal the pick of the day in Group A.
Al Ahli narrowly missed out on winning the 2015 competition after suffering a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande in the final, while Esteghlal return for the first time since 2014 having seen off Al Sadd on penalties following a scoreless draw to advance via the Play-offs.
Elsewhere in Group A, 2016 quarter-finalists Lokomotiv will be hosted by Saudi Arabian debutants Al Taawoun on the back of producing their best performance to date in the continental tournament.
Al Ahli (UAE) v Esteghlal (IRN)
Venue: Rashid Stadium, Dubai
Kick-off: February 20, 20:15 UTC+4
Al Taawoun (KSA) v Lokomotiv (UZB)
Venue: King Abdullah Stadium, Buraidah
Kick-off: February 20, 18:40 UTC +3
Earlier on Monday, another debutant, Esteghlal Khouzestan of Islamic Republic of Iran, will open the competition in Group B by taking on Saudi Arabia's Al Fateh, whose only previous appearance came in 2014.
Esteghlal Khouzestan caused a major upset by claiming their maiden Iran Pro League title last year and have a recent history that mirrors that of their opponents, who did likewise in winning their first and only Saudi Professional League championship in 2013.
Also in Group B, two-time quarter-finalists Lekhwiya will welcome Al Jazira of the UAE with the visitors boasting the recently acquired Brazilian Leonardo - who netted twice in Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' 3-2 aggregate victory over Al Ain in last year's final - within their ranks.
Esteghlal Khouzestan (IRN) v Al Fateh (KSA)
Venue: Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Muscat
Kick-off: February 20, 15:00 UTC +4
Lekhwiya (QAT) v Al Jazira (UAE)
Venue: Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: February 20, 16:50 UTC +3
Al Ain will attempt to bounce back from the disappointment of their final defeat to Jeonbuk when they host 2010 runners-up Zobahan in Group C on Tuesday - a repeat of last year's Round of 16 clash.
As ever, the home side will look to their talisman, 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman, to lead them to victory but the Emiratis will be aware that Zobahan will be no pushovers after the Iranians claimed a 1-1 draw on their last visit to Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
And perennial qualifiers Bunyodkor, who again advanced via the Play-offs to secure their 10th consecutive appearance, travel to Jeddah to take on Christian Gross's Al Ahli to round off the fixtures in the West.
Al Ain (UAE) v Zobahan (IRN)
Venue: Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: February 21, 19:15 UTC +4
Al Ahli (KSA) v Bunyodkor (UZB)
Venue: King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah
Kick-off: February 21, 20:15 UTC +3
In Group D, Iranian heavyweights Persepolis return to the mix after missing out in 2016 and will open their campaign against two-time continental champions Al Hilal also on Tuesday.
Despite boasting an impressive record domestically, Persepolis have yet to progress beyond the Round of 16 on the continent, while Al Hilal will be aiming to better their own last-16 performance from 2016 when they were ousted by Lokomotiv.
Qatar Stars League champions Al Rayyan, under the guidance of Michael Laudrup, meanwhile, host Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates with the teams' last appearance in the AFC Champions League coming in 2014 and 2011 respectively.
Persepolis (IRN) v Al Hilal (KSA)
Venue: Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Muscat
Kick-off: February 21, 19:00 UTC +4
Al Rayyan (QAT) v Al Wahda (UAE)
Venue: Jassim Bin Hammad Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: February 21, 18:15 UTC +3
Over in the East and in Group E on Tuesday, Japan takes on Korea Republic as J.League giants Kashima Antlers welcome 2012 champions Ulsan Hyundai, who required a penalty shootout victory to scrape past Hong Kong's Kitchee and advance to their first Group Stage since 2014.
After conquering Shanghai Shenhua in the Play-off round, Brisbane Roar's next task will be to overcome Thailand's Muangthong United, with both teams seeking to progress beyond the Group Stage for the first time.
Kashima Antlers (JPN) v Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)
Venue: Kashima Soccer Stadium, Ibaraki
Kick-off: February 21, 19:00 UTC +9
Brisbane Roar (AUS) v Muangthong United (THA)
Venue: Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: February 21, 20:00 UTC +11
Also on Tuesday, there is a battle of former champions as 2014 winners Western Sydney Wanderers host 2007 victors Urawa Red Diamonds in Group F.
After claiming the continental title on their maiden appearance, the Australian side were ousted in the Group Stage a year later before missing out in 2016, while Urawa suffered penalty shootout heartbreak against FC Seoul in the Round of 16 last year.
FC Seoul, meanwhile, will take on Shanghai SIPG in Tuesday's other Group F clash as the 2016 semi-finalists and the big-spending Chinese outfit go head-to-head in one of the week's most eagerly anticipated clashes.
Western Sydney Wanderers (AUS) v Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)
Venue: Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: February 21, 19:00 UTC +11
FC Seoul (KOR) v Shanghai SIPG (CHN)
Venue: Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul
Kick-off: February 21, 19:30 UTC +9
Wednesday sees two AFC Champions League firsts in Group G as Eastern SC become Hong Kong's maiden representatives, while Chan Yuen-ting will become the first female to coach in the competition.
Chan couldn't have been given a tougher start, though, as Eastern will make the short trip across the border to take on Luiz Felipe Scolari's two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande, with the Chinese side looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 showing.
Two-time Asian champions Suwon Samsung Bluewings, meanwhile, travel to Kawasaki Frontale in Wednesday's other Group G clash in a tie that sees the home side return to the tournament for the first time since 2014.
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Eastern SC (HKG)
Venue: Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou
Kick-off: February 22, 20:00 UTC +8
Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) v Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR)
Venue: Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium, Kawasaki
Kick-off: February 22, 19:00 UTC +9
Group H will kick off with a repeat of the 2008 final as Adelaide United host Gamba Osaka. The Japanese side claimed a resounding 5-0 aggregate victory over two legs nine years ago, although four years later Adelaide gained some revenge by winning home and away against Gamba on route to topping Group E.
And finally, Korea Republic's Jeju United open only their second ever AFC Champions League campaign with a home tie against China's Jiangsu FC, themselves making just their third appearance in the continental competition.
Adelaide United (AUS) v Gamba Osaka (JPN)
Venue: Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide
Kick-off: February 22, 19:30 UTC +10:30
Jeju United (KOR) v Jiangsu FC (CHN)
Venue: Jeju World Cup Stadium, Jeju
Kick-off: February 22, 20:00 UTC + 9
Photos: Lagardère Sports & AFP