March 24, 2017 0604 GMT
While the 2015 AFC Club of the Year must wait until February 9 and the outcome of the playoff between 2010 ACL champions Pohang Steelers and the winner of the preliminary stage match between Hanoi T&T and Kitchee of Hong Kong, with the identity of its Japanese opponent known on January 1 following the Emperor’s Cup final, Guangzhou know it will face Australia opposition in the Group Stage for the third successive tournament.
Having taken on Melbourne Victory in 2014 and the then defending champion Western Sydney Wanderers the following year, the five-time Chinese Super League champion is up against Sydney FC, which is appearing in the ACL for the first time since 2011.
Melbourne Victory will be making its fifth appearance in Asia’s premier competition with the A-League double winner also playing the waiting game as to who will join the team, and South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings, in Group G, with Japan’s second team and the winner of East Playoff 4, which could be either Shanghai SIPG, Thailand’s Muangthong United, or AFC Cup Holders Johor Darul Ta’zim.
With Al Ahli having a disappointing domestic season, last year’s runner-up failed to qualifying following an extremely competitive Persian Gulf League season, with the UAE represented by inaugural AFC Champions League winner Al Ain and Al Nasr.
Al AIn is in Group D with Saudi giant Al Ahli, Nasaf of Uzbekistan, and the victorious side in the Playoff match between Naft Tehran — which eliminated Al Ahli in the Round of 16 as the Iranians made it to the last eight in its debut ACL campaign — and Qatari side El Jaish, while Al Nasr has Iranians Sepahan, Lokomotiv, and the winner of the Playoff between Al Ahli’s Jeddah rivals and two-time ACL champion Al Ittihad and Jordan’s Al Wehdat for company in Group A.
The UAE duo could be joined in the Group Stage by compatriots Al Jazira and Al Shabab, if they can emerge victorious from their respective Playoffs against former champion Al Sadd of Qatar and Bunyodkor, which made the Knockout Stage in its first seven continental campaigns before bowing out at the Group Stage of this year’s competition.
Al Sadd battled its way from the Playoffs to go onto defeat Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the 2011 final, and the K League Classic champion, which was the first team from South Korea to win the ACL in 2007, take on China’s Jiangsu Sainty, Vietnam champion Becamex Binh Duoung, and the winner of East Playoff 2 in what is its seventh consecutive appearance in the tournament.
Binh Duong is one of only two South East Asian clubs to be assured of its place in the Group Stage of the ACL, with the other team being tournament regulars Buriram United, the recently-crowned Thailand Premier League champion which will take on J.League Championship winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima, FC Seoul — runner-up to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2013 — and the winner of Playoff East 3 in Group F.
1. Sepahan (IRN)
2. Al Nasr (UAE)
3. Lokomotiv (UZB)
4. Al Ittihad (KSA) or Al Wehdat (JOR)
1. Al Nassr (KSA)
2. Zob Ahan (IRN)
3. Lekhwiya (QAT)
4. Bunyodkor (UZB) v Al Shabab (UAE)
1. Pakhtakor (UZB)
2. Al Hilal (KSA)
3. Traktorsazi Tabriz (IRN)
4. Al Jazira (UAE) or Al Sadd (QAT)
1. Al Ain (UAE)
2. Nasaf (UZB)
3. Al Ahli (KSA)
4. Naft Tehran (IRN) or El Jaish (QAT)
1. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR)
2. Jiangsu Sainty (CHN)
3. Becamex Binh Duong (VIE)
4. Winner Playoff 2
1. Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN)
2. FC Seoul (KOR)
3. Buriram United (THA)
4. Winner Playoff 3
1. Melbourne Victory (AUS)
2. Japan 2nd Club (JPN)
3. Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR)
4. Winner Playoff 4
1. Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN)
2. Sydney FC (AUS)
3. Japan 3rd Club (JPN)
4. Winner Playoff East 1