Guangzhou Evergrande have been given a baptism of fire in the Asian Champions League (ACL) after being drawn in group H with Jeonbuk Motors, Kashiwa Reysol, the reigning champions of South Korea and Japan respectively, and the as yet undertermined winners of the Thai league.
For fans starved for off-season news, today allowed for a break from the “heated kang league” (ie the transfer market rumors) as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced the groups for the ACL in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon. With Liaoning Whowin having officially pulled out of the competition due to a dispute with the AFC, China’s spots were reduced to 3, with Guangzhou Evergrande, Beijing Guoan, and Tianjin Teda representing the Chinese Super League in the competition next year.
The Chinese champions spent big this year and won the Chinese Super League with four games to spare, before declaring the ACL to be their next target. They face a tough challenge to say the least, they could barely have been drawn against stiffer opposition and the Chinese footballing world will be looking on with great interest to see how they fare in their group games which kick off around the first week of next March.
A1. League champions (THA)
A2. Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN)
A3. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR)
A4. Kashiwa Reysol (JPN)
In a bizarre co-incidence, Guangzhou’s J-League opponents Kashiwa Reysol also won their first ever domestic title in their first season back in the top division. Although not a traditional powerhouse of Japanese football, they were crowned champions last Saturday after a thrilling last day finish in which the title could have gone to either Gamba Osaka or Nagoya Grampus. K-League champions Jeonbuk Motors are the other rival in group H, and were last season’s beaten ACL finalists.
Making up the numbers will be the yet to be decided Thai Premier League Champions, although Buriram PEA F.C currently have a virtually unassailable lead and will likely seal the title soon, unless Robbie Fowler’s Muangthong United can pull off something really special.
A1. Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)
A2. Emperor’s Cup winner (JPN)
A3. Brisbane Roar (AUS)
A4. Beijing Guoan (CHN)
Beijing Guoan have it a little easier with K-League side Ulsan Hyundai, the reigning A-League champions Brisbane Roar, and the yet-to-be-decided winners of the Japanese Emperor’s cup in group F. Guoan are believed to be preparing a substainal investment in their playing squad during the close season, their chances will largely depend on the quality of whomever they bring into their squad, since, like other Chinese teams, they have made little impact in the ACL in previous outings.
A1. Tianjin Teda (CHN)
A2. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (KOR)
A3. Nagoya Grampus (JPN)
A4. Central Coast Mariners (AUS)
China’s other ACL 2012 participants, Tianjin Teda, have Korea’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, J-League outfit Nagoya Grampus and Australia’s Central Coast Mariners to contend with in group G. However, Tianjin were quite some way from being one of China’s strongest teams this season. They qualified by way of being the CFA cup winners, a feat which only required them to win three games, since they were given a bye to the quarter finals on account of them being ACL participants last season also. Despite making it past the group stages last year, the northern side would appear to be the least likely Chinese side to make an impact next year – unless they can unearth some gems in the close season transfer market this winter.
The group games begin around the first week of March – Wikipedia has the full details of both the west and east Asia groups.