NPL Sports – January 29, Kuala Lumpur : Recent runners-up Al Hilal discovered their Group Stage opponents for the 2018 edition of the AFC Champions League following the competition’s official draw in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
The Saudi Arabian giants, who lost to Urawa Red Diamonds over two legs in this year’s final, will begin their latest continental campaign in the West Zone’s Group D where they have Esteghlal from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Qatar’s Al Rayyan and the Play-off 1 winner for company.
In the East Zone, two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande begin their latest continental campaign from Group G and are set to face Jeju United from the Korea Republic, Thailand’s Buriram United and a yet to be determined Japanese side.
From WEST Asia
- Al Jazira (UAE)
- Al Ahli Saudi FC (KSA)
- Tractorsazi Tabriz (IRN)
- Winner of Play-off 3 (WEST)
- Al Duhail SC (QAT)
- Al Wahda (UAE)
- PFC Lokomotiv (UZB)
- Winner of Play-off 2 (WEST)
- Persepolis FC (IRN)
- Al Sadd SC (QAT)
- Al Wasl (UAE)
- Winner of Play-off 4 (WEST)
- Al Hilal SFC (KSA)
- Esteghlal FC (IRN)
- Al Rayyan SC (QAT)
- Winner of Play-off 1 (WEST)
From EAST Asia
- Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (KOR)
- Kitchee SC (HKG)
- Winner of Play-off 4 (EAST)
- Winner of Play-off 2 (EAST)
- Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
- Ulsan Hyundai FC (KOR)
- Melbourne Victory (AUS)
- Winner of Play-off 3 (EAST)
- Guangzhou Evergrande FC (CHN)
- Japan 2nd Club
- Jeju United FC (KOR)
- Buriram United (THA)
- Sydney FC (AUS)
- Shanghai Shenhua FC (CHN)
- Kashima Antlers (JPN)
- Winner of Play-off 1 (EAST)
The fixtures for the Preliminary and Play-off stages – as well as the clubs competing in them – were also confirmed at the event.
At the same time, a specialist international risk agency has provided an assessment of the security within the countries involved and whether home and away games are safe to play. If the conclusion had been that danger existed then neutral venues would have been considered for the game in question.
The decision follows the successful hosting of the Gulf Cup in Kuwait in December/January with all the nations present. While the Gulf Cup is not an AFC competition, it nevertheless gave the opportunity for the nations to compete in the same competition.
Originally scheduled to be hosted in Qatar, the event was moved at the last minute to Kuwait once that country’s suspension from international football was lifted by FIFA. Qatar was drawn in a different group to the UAE and Saudi Arabia who have boycotted the competition if it had been hosted in Qatar.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia (who have qualified for the World Cup later this year) failed to make it out the group stage. The UAE eventually lost in the final on penalties to Oman. The real winner was football in the region.
The AFC Champions League qualifying rounds continue for the West Region – where the Gulf country qualifiers are bracketed – with the final play-offs for the last four group slots on Tuesday January 30.
The West Region has 12 teams pre-qualified with four more to qualify from the final qualifying matches where both Qatar and the UAE have teams. Three teams from Qatar and the UAE are already pre-qualified to the AFC Champions League group stages, as well as two from Saudi Arabia.
While the draw so far has meant no teams from the three countries play against each other in the preliminary and play-off stages, that changes in Group stage with the three Qatari teams already qualified all facing UAE or Saudi opposition.
AFC Champions League 2017 Preliminary Stage & Play-off Schedule
WEST Play-off Stage (January 30, 2018)
- PO 1 – Al Ain (UAE) v Malkiya Club (BHR)
- PO 2 – Zobahan FC (IRN) v Aizawl FC (IND)
- PO 3 – Al Gharafa SC (QAT) v Uzbekistan 3rd Club
- PO 4 – Uzbekistan 2nd Club v Al Faisaly (JOR)
East Preliminary Stage 1 (January 16, 2018)
- PS 1.1 – FLC Thanh Hoa (VIE) v Bye
- PS 1.2 – Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) v Bye
- PS 1.3 – Bali United (IDN) v Tampines Rovers FC (SIN)
- PS 1.4 – Shan United (MYA) v Ceres Negros (PHI)
East Preliminary Stage 2 (January 23, 2018)
- PS 2.1 – Eastern Sc (HKG) v FLC Thanh Hoa
- PS 2.2 – Muangthong United (THA) v Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS)
- PS 2.3 – Chiangrai United (THA) v Winner PS 1.3
- PS 2.4 – Brisbane Roar (AUS) v Winner PS 1.4
East Play-off Stage (January 30, 2018)
- PO 1 – Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR) v Winner PS 2.1
- PO 2 – Japan 4th Club v Winner PS 2.2
- PO 3 – Shanghai Sipg (CHN) v Winner PS 2.3
- PO 4 – Tianjin Quanjian FC (CHN) v Winner PS 2.4