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KUALA LUMPUR: Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande were handed a tough AFC Champions League draw against two former winners yesterday, complicating their bid to end China’s long Asian trophy drought.
The Chinese champions, marshalled by their World Cup-winning Italian coach, landed in a difficult Group F with South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, winners in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Newly crowned J-League winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima were pitted against Beijing Guoan, Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor and South Korean side Pohang Steelers, the 2009 champions, in Group G.
And Australia’s Central Coast Mariners will face China’s Guizhou Renhe, Suwon Bluewings of South Korea and the eventual winners of Japan’s Emperor’s Cup, in Group H. A-League champions Brisbane Roar, forced to go through qualifying after Australia were reduced to just one automatic spot, will play Thailand’s Buriram United on February 9 for a place in Group E.
South Korea’s K-League winners FC Seoul, Vegalta Sendai of Japan and Jiangsu Sainty, runners-up to Lippi’s Guangzhou in the Chinese Super League, await the play-off winners. The harsh draw is a setback for ambitious Guangzhou, who reached the quarter-finals on debut this year and are attempting to become China’s first Asian team since Liaoning to won the former Asian Club Championship in 1990.
“Lippi was very disappointed that we didn’t make it as far as the semi-finals, but next year we will prepare according to the AFC Champions League schedule and we will give the competition more priority,” Guangzhou’s Zheng Zhi said before the draw.
Play-offs are on February 9 and the home-and-away group stage begins on February 26, before a knock-out round of 16 in May. The competition wraps up with a two-legged final completed in November. REUTERS