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Asian Champions League makes full return as preliminary and qualifying rounds dates finalized

HONG KONG — Hong Kong Rangers will host Vietnam’s Haiphong in the preliminary rounds of the Asian Champions League on Aug. 15 as the continental club championship makes its fully-fledged return after three COVID-disrupted seasons.

The meeting between the pair will be the first of 13 preliminary and qualifying round matches ahead of the group phase draw on Aug. 28.

Travel restrictions during the pandemic had a major impact on the competition and saw the usual home-and-away format scrapped in 2020 in favor of matches being played in centralized bio-secure hubs.

The 2022 final, in which Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds defeated Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia, was the first to be played over two legs since the 2019 edition.

The new campaign sees the group phase begin in September with the final to be played the following May, moving away from a traditional schedule that saw the tournament completed during a calendar year.

Defending champions Urawa will appear in the qualifying rounds on Aug. 22 when they face the winners of the meeting between Hong Kong Premier League runners-up Lee Man and Indonesian side Bali United.

The group phase, which sees 40 clubs split across 10 groups divided across West and East Asia, is scheduled to kick off on Sept. 18 and run until Dec. 13, with the knockout rounds commencing on Feb. 12.

The final will be held over two legs on May 11 and 18. — Reuters

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