KUALA LUMPUR – Two-time champion Guangzhou Evergrande has been handed a potentially bumpy ride to the knockout stages of the 2018 Asian Champions League after the draw for the group phase of next year’s competition was made on Wednesday.
Evergrande, the title winner in 2013 and 2015, will take on South Korea’s Jeju United, Buriram United of Thailand and an as-yet undetermined Japanese representative in Group G when the competition kicks off in February.
Guangzhou’s last triumph came under Luiz Felipe Scolari but it exited the competition this year at the quarterfinal stage at the hands of Chinese Super League rival Shanghai SIPG.
Scolari still steered Guangzhou to a club-record seventh straight domestic league title before resigning last month. He was replaced by Fabio Cannavaro, formerly of Tianjin Quanjian.
The ex-Italy defender’s first game back at the helm of the club he briefly managed in 2015 will be against Thai champion Buriram at Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou on Feb 14.
Shanghai Shenhua, China’s other automatic qualifier, has been drawn in Group H to take on Australian champion Sydney FC as well as Japan’s Kashima Antlers and either Suwon Bluewings from South Korea, Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa or Eastern from Hong Kong.
With the champion not gaining automatic qualification, Urawa Red Diamonds, who won the 2017 title in November with a 2-1 aggregate win over Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, will not defend its crown after failing to claim a place through Japan’s domestic competitions.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, which won the title in 2016 but was banned from this year’s competition due to its involvement in a match-fixing scandal, returns after winning the Korean league title. Choi Kang-hee’s team will meet Hong Kong’s Kit-chee with two playoff winners in Group E.
Newly crowned Japanese champion Kawasaki Frontale has been drawn to face Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea, Australia’s Melbourne Victory and the winner of a playoff that could see China’s Shanghai SIPG join the fray.
In the west of the continent, Al Hilal, which lost to Red Diamonds last month, was drawn to face Iran’s Esteghlal, Al Rayyan of Qatar and either Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain’s Malkiya in Group D.
Iran’s Persepolis takes on Al Sadd of Qatar, UAE’s Al Wasl and either Nasaf Qarshi from Uzbekistan or Aizwal from India in Group C while Group A will feature Al Jazira from UAE, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli, Tractorsazi Tabriz of Iran and either Qatar’s Al Gharafa or Pakhtanor from Uzbekistan.