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  • Sheryll Mericido

Al-Ittihad Saudi Club hosts AGMK Uzbekistan in AFC Champions League

JEDDAH — At the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah on Monday, Al-Ittihad Saudi Club will play host to AGMK Uzbekistan in the opening round of Group C of the 2023–2024 AFC Champions League.

After winning the Saudi Arabian League championship last season for the first time in 14 years, the team comes into the game with great expectations.

They are attempting to defend the continental championships they won in 2004 and 2005, becoming the only team to accomplish this feat.

Nuno Santo, the manager of Al-Ittihad and a Portuguese coach, stressed the value of the AFC Champions League by stating: "This league is beautiful, and Al-Ittihad is used to playing in it. The title hasn't been ours in quite some time.

Santo said he will meet with the medical staff before the last practice to evaluate the readiness of the players, who have lately dealt with a variety of injuries.

Santo discussed the health of players Igor Coronado, Jota, and Marcelo Grohe at the news conference held prior to the game against AGMK Uzbekistan.

"Jota and Coronado missed the game against Al-Okhdood due to injuries, but they are currently improving steadily," he stated. There is no set date for their return, but I am hoping that it will happen quickly.

"Since the end of last season, we have known that we have five foreign players in each match in the AFC Champions League," said Santo, who is in his second campaign as Al-Ittihad's head coach.

Every game is unique, and we will always select the best players based on our research of the competition.

Santo said when questioned about his thoughts on the rising number of foreign players in Saudi Arabian football: "It is only normal for the league that strives to be the greatest to draw the best players from across the globe.

"And this is what's going on in this place. The league is still developing after a year that I have been here.

At the press conference, French striker Karim Benzema emphasized his excitement for the game and said, "It's undoubtedly a big event.

"The forthcoming game will be challenging, and the coach already stressed how important the opening is. We have excellent players and a strong, cohesive team, and we are looking forward to the game.

Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kanté are two French players who Al-Ittihad added to its roster this season as part of a constellation of stars looking to win their third continental championship.

AGMK Uzbekistan, on the other hand, aims to maintain their position depending on their tenacity, which played a big role in their victory in two matches during the preliminary round, securing their qualification to the group stage.

They are making their second appearance in the AFC Champions League following the 2021 season and currently hold the fifth spot in their domestic league standings.

AGMK will play Al-Malik in the second round of Group C matches, which will take place in Isfahan, and Sepahan will play Al-Ittihad.

Along with the three top second-place teams from the five groups, the team that wins each group goes to the round of 16 in the West region.

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