Asian Champions League draw: What you need to know


The Hilton Hotel in Petaling Jaya is the location for the draw tonight (Thursday) for the group stages of the 2016 AFC Champions League.

For Australian fans, there are two teams who will find out the identity of their group opponents while Adelaide United – who finished third in the Hyundai A-League last season – will need to come through a play-off match to qualify.

Adelaide will play their one-off qualifier against another East Asian side on February 9, with the group stage to get underway on February 23.

Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory have obviously had plenty of success in the Hyundai A-League over the years but have yet to show Asia what they are capable of. 

In 2014, these national powerhouses had to sit back and watch as Western Sydney Wanderers shocked the continent by winning the trophy on its first attempt.

The challenge from China is going to be stronger than ever. Guangzhou is, of course, going to be regarded as the favourite to win the title for the third time in four years. 

Luiz Felipe Scolari will not be present at the draw as the Southern Chinese Tigers are in Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup Cup and a game against America of Mexico on Sunday, win that and Barcelona come next.

Guangzhou will be as strong as ever next years, perhaps more so, if the investment in players continues as expected. 

Depending on your attitude, Shanghai SIPG will be one to avoid – assuming the team makes it through the play-off given the fact that the team has Sven Goran Eriksson on the sidelines and stars such as Asamoah Gyan on the pitch.

South Korea is always there or thereabouts when it comes to continental competitions with ten championships to the K-League’s name. 

Socceroo defender Alex Wilkinson’s Jeonbuk Motors are in the draw as K-League champions, while J-League heavyweights Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Korea’s Suwon will be other club’s will be other tough match-ups.

Jeonbuk Motors has played more games in the tournament than any in the eastern half of the AFC and is fresh from a second successive domestic title and more eager than ever to add to its Champions League win from 2006. 

FC Seoul won the FA Cup and is in along with Pohang Steelers, the most successful team in Asian history with three continental crowns.

J-League’s champion from 2015 was decided just a few days ago as Sanfreece defeated Gamba Osaka in the league’s two-legged championship final for a third title in four years. 

The club’s coach Hajime Moriyasu is establishing a reputation as one of Asia’s best tacticians and will present a tough challenge to any Australian club.

As will Buriram United. Thailand is becoming a growing force as United showed by reaching the last eight in 2013 and was very close to the knockout stage this year. 

There is also a Vietnamese team certain of a spot in the group stage. The play-offs could throw up some new opposition in the form of teams from Malaysia, Myanmar and India.

Looking back, the 2003 AFC Champions League was a very different beast. Thirteen years later, instead of eleven nations and a total of 16 teams there are 17 countries with a total of 45 horses in next year’s race.

It is less than a month since Guangzhou Evergrande defeated Al Ahli in front of 50,000 plus fans in the final of the 2015 edition and here we are, making the draw for next year.

Whatever happens, a new tournament and a new draw brings new possibilities and expectations. 

For Sydney and Melbourne, the excitement starts now.

The AFC Champions League trophy

Qualified clubs so far:

East Zone

Australia: Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC

Korea Republic: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, FC Seoul, Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC

Japan: Sanfrecce Hiroshima

China: Guangzhou Evergrande, Jiangsu Sainty

Thailand: Buriram United

Vietnam: Becamex Binh Duong

West Zone

Saudi Arabia: Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ahli

Iran: Sepahan, Zob Ahan, Tractor Sazi

Uzbekistan: Pakhtakor, Nasaf, Lokomotiv Tashkent

UAE: Al Ain, Al Nasr

Qatar: Lekhwiya

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