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News: AFC Champions League Group Stage draw made


The Group Stage draw for the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League has been made.

ACL newcomers Incheon United have been drawn into Group G along with Yokohama F. Marinos, Shandong Taishan, and Kaya FC-Iliolo.

Reigning K League champions and current league leaders Ulsan Hyundai are in Group I along with Kawasaki Frontale, Johor Darul Ta'zim, and BG Pathum United while Jeonbuk, who enter as 2022 FA Cup winners, are in Group F with Bangkok United, Lion City Sailors, and Kitchee SC who have their former striker Kim Shin-wook on their books.

Pohang Steelers, back in the competition for the first time since the 2021 final, are in Group J with Wuhan Three Towns, Hanoi FC, and reigning Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds.

Pohang are South Korea's most successful club on the continent with three ACL titles, followed by Seongnam, Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, and Samsung Bluewings who all have two. 

Pohang made it to the final in 2021, Ulsan won the competition in 2020. Before that, the most recent K League triumph in Asia was Jeonbuk in 2016.

2023-2024 Full Group Stage Draw (East)

Group F

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR)
Bangkok United (THA)
Lion City Sailors (SGP)
Kitchee SC (KHG)

Group G

Yokohama F. Marinos (JPN)
Shandong Taishan (CHN)
Kaya FC-Iloilo (PHI)
Incheon United (KOR)

Group H

Buriram United (THA)
Ventforet Kofu (JPN)
Melbourne City (AUS)
Zhejiang FC (CHN)

Group I

Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)
Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
Johor Darul Ta'zim (MAS)
BG Pathum United (THA)

Group J

Wuhan Three Towns (CHN)
Pohang Steelers (KOR)
Hanoi FC (VIE)
Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN)

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New format

The AFC Champions League returns to its home and away format after three years of centralised hubs but there are some tweaks. The 42nd edition of Asia's premier club tournament - and 21st since it was rebranded to the Champions League - will be the first since 2002-2003 to be spread over two years. 

The group stage begins in September and will run until December. The knockout stages begin in February 2024, starting with the Round of 16 in February, followed by the quarters in March, semis in April, and a two-leg final in May.

Foreign player rules

According to the competition regulations, article 27.1 says that each Participating Club may only select up to six (6) foreign Participating Players in the Player Selection List. In case more than five (5) foreign Participating Players are selected in the Player Selection List, then at least one (1) of these foreign Participating Players must hold the nationality of a Member Association.”

This means that K League clubs can field all of their foreign players at any one time. Incheon United and Ulsan Hyundai have five (4+1), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have six (5+1), while Pohang Steelers have four (3+1).

When could a K League team face Ronaldo or Neymar?

Not until the final. Although the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League is slightly different from previous years, the format in terms of when West and East meet remains the same. The Group Stage, Round of 16, Quarterfinal, and Semifinal will be contested between teams from each region before a two-leg final in May 2024 between the winners of the West semifinal and East semifinal.

FNR

AFC Champions League Elite

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced on August 15th that there is to be a third competition as part of a huge rebrand. The top 24 clubs in Asia will play in a new competition called the AFC Champions League Elite. The winners will earn a cool US$12 million, three times more than what is currently awarded to the winners of the ACL.

A total of 32 teams will take part in AFC Champions League 2 while a third-tier competition, to be called the AFC Challenge League, will be made up of 20 clubs. There will also be a women's competition but the AFC says more details will be announced in due course.

How does qualification work?

For K League teams, only the winners of K League 1 and the FA Cup will qualify directly to the group stage but the K League 1 runners-up will enter a playoff. This means that, teams like Incheon United (2022), Daegu FC (2020, 2021), FC Seoul (2019), Ulsan Hyundai (2018), and Suwon Bluewings (2017), who qualified for the ACL through league positioning, would instead qualify for ACL2 under the new format. 

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