Urawa Red Diamonds may have only just won the 2017 AFC Champions League, but the draw for next year’s competition has already been made meaning we can already start predicting who may fare best in Asia’s most prestigious club competition. Matches will be fiercer than ever with even higher prizes up for grabs this year as the AFC have announced that the prize money for winning the Champions League has increased. The 2018 winners will receive US$4m, which is up from US$3m.
The two CSL sides that already have their places in the group stage confirmed are of course Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenua. Two-time Champions League winners Evergrande are in Group G with Jeju United, Buriram United and a yet to be confirmed Japanese side, while Shenua face Sydney FC, Kashima Antlers and a play-off winning side (most likely Suwon Samsung Bluewings) in Group H.
Both Shanghai SIPG and Tianjin Quanjian are in the East play-off stage of the competition and won’t know their opposition for those qualifying games until the East preliminary stages are completed on the 23rd January. The structure of the draw means it is possible to predict who SIPG and Tianjin will face if they are to make the group stages though, as can be seen in the entire draw details below.
SIPG will be up against Kawasaki Frontale, Ulsan Hyundai FC and Melbourne Victory should they qualify, while Tianjin would be in a group with another play-off winner, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Kitchee SC.
The Draw in Full
Group A: Al Jazira (UAE), Al Ahli Saudi FC (KSA), Tractorsazi Tabriz (IRN), Winner of Play-off 3 (West).
Group B: Al Duhail SC (QAT), Al Wahda (UAE), PFC Lokomotiv (UZB), Winner of Play-off 2 (West).
Group C: Persepolis FC (IRN), Al Sadd SC (QAT), Al Wasl (UAE), Winner of Play-off 4 (West).
Group D: Al Hilal SFC (KSA), Esteghlal FC (IRN), Al Rayyan SC (QAT), Winner of Play-off 1 (West).
Group E: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (KOR), Kitchee SC (HKG), Winner of Play-off 4 (East).
Group F: Kawasaki Frontale (JPN), Ulsan Hyundai FC (KOR), Melbourne Victory (AUS), Winner of Play-off 3 (East).
Group G: Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN), Japan 2, Jeju United (KOR), Buriram United (THA).
Group H: Sydney FC (AUS), Shanghai Shenua (CHN), Kashima Antlers (JPN), Winner of Play-off 1 (East).
As can be seen by the group stage draw, the play-off stages are also divided into West and East sections. The West has already been decided with team’s play-off fixtures confirmed for the 30th January. The East still has preliminary stages yet to play though, meaning the exact opposition Tianjin and SIPG will face in their play-off matches remains unconfirmed.
West Play-off stage (taking place January 30th, 2018):
Play-off 1: Al Ain (UAE) vs. Malkiya Club (BHR)
Play-off 2: Zobahan FC (IRN) vs. Aizawl FC (IND)
Play-off 3: Al Gharafa SC (QAT) vs. Uzbekistan 3rd.
Play-off 4: Uzbekistan 2nd. vs. Al Faisaly (JOR)
East Preliminary Stage 1 (taking place January 16th, 2018)
PS 1.1: FLC Thanh Hoa (VIE) have a bye.
PS 1.2: Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) have a bye.
PS 1.3: Bali United (IDN) vs. Tampines Rovers FC (SIN)
PS 1.4: Shan United (MYA) vs. Philippines 1st.
East Preliminary Stage 2 (taking place January 23rd, 2018)
PS 2.1: Eastern Sc (HKG) vs. FLC Thanh Hoa
PS 2.2: Muangthong United (THA) vs. Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS)
PS 2.3: Chiangrai United (THA) vs. Winner of PS 1.3.
PS 2.4: Brisbane Roar (AUS) vs. Winner of PS 1.4.
East Play-off stage (taking place January 30th, 2018)
Play-off 1: Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR) vs. Winner of PS 2.1
Play-off 2: Japan 4th. vs. Winner of PS 2.2.
Play-off 3: Shanghai SIPG (CHN) vs. Winner of PS 2.3.
Play-off 4: Tianjin Quanjian (CHN) vs. Winner of PS 2.4.