Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr And Karim Benzema Target Asian Champions League Title

Mumbai City has been assigned to the same group, and the Indians are eager to face Hilal and, in particular, its Brazilian superstar, Neymar.

Group Stage Matches of the Asian Champions League are scheduled to start on Monday.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Karim Benzema have won a total of 11 UEFA Champions League titles between them, and they will lead the Saudi Arabian challenge in the Asian edition beginning on Monday. 

Neymar, who eclipsed Pele's international goal record for Brazil last week, joined Al-Hilal in August and made his league debut on Friday when the four-time Asian champion defeated Abha 6-1. Last May, Hilal was defeated in the final by the Urawa Reds of Japan. 

Since then, Saudi Arabian teams have spent approximately USD 950 million on some of the world's best names. The spending is being spurred by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund taking a controlling stake in four of the country's biggest clubs, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr.

Al-Hilal has signed Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Aleksandar Mitrovic from the English Premier League, as well as Moroccan custodian Yassine Bounou, Brazilian winger Malcom, and Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Mumbai City has been assigned to the same group, and the Indians are eager to face Hilal and, in particular, its Brazilian superstar.

"I think anyone that's seen the movement in some of these teams, and Neymar being the latest to arrive there, it's exciting," Mumbai's coach Des Buckingham said. 

"They're bringing that caliber and quality of player to India, which is going to be extremely exciting for us and for our club but also the fans of India."

In all, four Saudi Arabians are among the 40 teams in the group stage, with the ten group winners and the six best second-placed teams advancing to the second round. 

After years of neutral venues for games between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Ronaldo will lead Al-Nassr to Tehran on Tuesday to face Persepolis. The Asian trophy has never been lifted by the visitor.

Persepolis president Reza Darvish told local news earlier this month that Al-Nassr will have complete internet connectivity, unlike the rest of the country.

"I have spoken with the CEO of Irancell, and I told him we want to give players and personnel Irancell SIM cards with unrestricted internet so they can use it from the time they enter Iran till the time they leave," Darvish said.

Al-Ittihad is the Saudi Arabian champion and has brought in prior European winners like N'Golo Kante from Chelsea and Fabinho from Liverpool, in addition to Benzema. In Jeddah, the two-time Asian champion will face AGMK of Uzbekistan. 

Al-Fayha completes the Saudi quartet, although unlike the other three, it is not owned by the Public Investment Fund and lacks the same star power. The team begins with a difficult trip to Uzbekistan to face Pakhtakor. 

The competition is not solely about Saudi Arabian teams, since it is divided into geographic zones until the final, ensuring a representative from the continent's eastern half next May. 

The current champion is Japan's Urawa Reds, and in 2020 the title was won by Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i of South Korea.

"We know that Saudi Arabian teams will provide strong opposition but the standard is rising all across Asia," Ulsan coach Hong Myong-bo said. 

"We have to focus first on doing as well as we can." 

(With AP inputs)