FC Goa clubbed with last season runners-up Persepolis in group stage of Asia's top club competition

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Kuala Lumpur, Jan 27 (PTI) Indian Super League team FC Goa was on Wednesday clubbed with the last edition's runners-up Persepolis FC of Iran, Qatari heavyweights Al Rayyan SC and one yet-to-qualify side in Group E in the prestigious AFC Champions League (ACL).

The group stage draw of the continent's top-tier league involving 40 teams was held online here. This season's AFC Champions League is the biggest ever in history as it was a 32-team affair last time around.

FC Goa had become the first Indian club to directly qualify for the group stage of the ACL by virtue of finishing on top of the points table at the end of the league phase.

Iranian giants Persepolis have won the domestic league 13 times and have finished runners-up in the ACL twice -- in 2018 and 2020. They have entered the group stage of ACL as 2019–20 Persian Gulf Pro League champions.

Al Rayyan are also a powerhouse side of Qatar, having played in the ACL five times earlier -- 2005, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2013. They have entered the group stage of ACL as 2019–20 Qatar Stars League runners-up.

The fourth side in Group E will the winner of the play-offs match between UAE's Al-Wahda FC and Iraq's Al-Zawraa SC.

The winner side of each of the 10 groups and three best runners-up from each region -- west and east -- advance to the round of 16 of the knockout stage. Groups A to E make up west region while Groups F to J comprise east region.

The league kicks off with the preliminary stage on April 7. The group stage matches will be held from April 14 to 30 for West Zone (Groups A to E) and from April 21 to May 7 for East Zone (Group F to J) and will be played in centralised venues.

The knockout matches in the Round of 16 are scheduled for September 13-15 and the quarter-finals on September 27-29. Both rounds will be played as single matches. The semi-finals will be over two legs on October 19-20 and 26-27.

The two-leg final will be held on November 21 and 27.

The detailed fixture and the centralised venues will be announced later.

Bidding invitations and other hosting details will be circulated to participating member associations, the AFC said. PTI PDS PDS AT AT