The draw for the 2015 AFC Champions League was announced on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, with 49 teams to take part in Asia’s top club competition.
In addition to the usual group stage and knockout stages, which will remain unchanged from 2014’s format, next year’s tournament will feature a significantly expanded playoff stage in the East Asia region.
West Asian fans can look forward to a Group A which features Saudi Arabian champions Al-Nassr, Qatar Stars League winners Lekhwiya, and Iran Pro League runners-up Persepolis.
Meanwhile, Group H boasts 2013 ACL champions Guangzhou Evergrande and this year’s winners Western Sydney Wanderers. 2007 ACL victors Urawa Reds could join the group depending on the results of Saturday’s Emperor’s Cup Final, as could 2013 runners-up FC Seoul should they win their February 17 playoff against either Ha Noi T&T or Persib Bandung.
J-League winners Gamba Osaka are the only Japanese team to know their group with certainty; 2014 league MVP Yasuhito Endo and his teammates join KFA Cup winners Seongnam FC and Thai champions Buriram United in Group F.
Should Gamba win the Emperor’s Cup Final, Urawa Reds would be Japan’s second team, Kashima Antlers third, and Kashiwa Reysol fourth in East Playoff 2. If Montedio Yamagata win the Cup, they would be Japan’s second team, Reds would be third, and Antlers fourth in East Playoff 2.
The 2015 AFC Champions League begins with playoffs on February 4 and will conclude on November 21.
Group A: Al-Nassr (Saudi Arabia), Lekhwiya (Qatar), Perspolis (Iran), West Playoff Winner 3
Group B: Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan), Al-Shabab (Saudi Arabia), Al Ain (Bahrain), West Playoff Winner 2
Group C: Foolad (Iran), Lokomotiv Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia), West Playoff Winner 4
Group D: Al-Ahli (UAE), Tractor Sazi (Iran), FC Nasaf (Uzbekistan), West Playoff Winner 1
Group E: Jeonbuk Motors (South Korea), Shandong Luneng (China), Binh Duong FC (Vietnam), East Playoff Winner 2
Group F: Gamba Osaka (Japan), Seongnam FC (South Korea), Buriram United (Thailand), East Playoff Winner 3
Group G: Brisbane Roar (Australia), Japan 2nd Team, Suwon Bluewings (South Korea), East Playoff Winner 4
Group H: Guangzhou Evergrande (China), Western Sydney Wanderers (Australia), Japan 3rd Team, East Playoff Winner 1