JEDDAH — Al-Ittihad Saudi Club aims for a strong start as they host AGMK Uzbekistan on Monday at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah, marking the first round of Group C in the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League.
The club enters the match with high aspirations after winning the Saudi Arabian league title last season for the first time in 14 years.
They seek to reclaim the continental title they won consecutively in 2004 and 2005, becoming the only team to achieve this feat.
Portuguese coach Nuno Santo, manager of Al-Ittihad, emphasized the importance of the AFC Champions League, saying: “This tournament is beautiful, and Al-Ittihad is accustomed to participating in it. We haven’t won the title in many years.”
Santo confirmed that he would meet with the medical staff before the final training session to assess the readiness of players who have been dealing with various injuries recently.
During the press conference ahead of the match against AGMK Uzbekistan, Santo addressed the status of players Igor Coronado, Jota, and Marcelo Grohe.
He said: “Coronado and Jota missed the match against Al-Okhdood due to injuries, and they are currently showing continuous improvement. There is no specific timeframe for their return, but I hope they will be back as soon as possible.”
Santo, who is in his second season as the coach of Al-Ittihad, stated “Since the end of last season, we have known that we have five foreign players in each match in the AFC Champions League.
“Each game is different, and each time we will choose the most suitable players based on our analysis of the opponents.”
When asked about his views on the increasing number of foreign players in Saudi Arabian football, Santo commented: “It is natural for the league that wants to be the best to attract the world’s best players.
“And this is what is happening here. I have been here for a year, and the development in the league is ongoing.”
French striker Karim Benzema, who was present at the press conference, expressed his enthusiasm for the match and said: “It’s definitely an important tournament.
“The upcoming match will be tough, and the start, as the coach mentioned, is crucial. We are excited for the match, and we have great players and a strong, cohesive team.”
Al-Ittihad bolstered its squad this season by signing French stars Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté, among a constellation of stars aiming to secure their third continental title.
On the other hand, AGMK Uzbekistan seeks to continue relying on their fighting spirit, which played a significant role in their victory in two preliminary round matches, securing their qualification to the group stage.
They currently occupy the fifth position in the local league standings and are making their second appearance in the AFC Champions League after the 2021 edition.
The second round of Group C matches will take place in October, with AGMK playing against Al-Malik and Sepahan facing Al-Ittihad in Isfahan.
In each group, the team that finishes first advances to the round of 16 in the West region, along with the three best second-placed teams from the five groups.
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