By Michael Church
KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – Kawasaki Frontale will aim to prolong Japan’s dominance of the Asian Champions League (ACL) when the double J-League winners play Shanghai SIPG of China and Australia’s Sydney FC in the group phase of next year’s continental championship.
Frontale, J-League champions in 2017 and 2018, will also face the winners of a playoff involving clubs from South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong after Thursday’s draw as they seek to become the third Japanese ACL title holders in a row.
Kashima Antlers won the 2018 crown after Urawa Reds’ triumph 12 months earlier and Kawasaki are confident of turning their domestic dominance into silverware at Asian level next season.
“We need to win the title and we’re going to start preparing to win the Asian Champions League title,” Tsuyoshi Hada, Frontale team manager, told Reuters.
“There are many countries who will be more competitive than they’ve been in previous years but we’ve been J-League champions twice now… and with that pride we will prepare our team so we’re as competitive as possible against the other teams.”
Frontale are in Group H with a Shanghai SIPG side that won their first Chinese Super League title this year and features the attacking talents of Brazilian duo Oscar and Hulk, while Sydney won Australia’s A-League title in the last two seasons.
“This is the Asian Champions League, so it’s always going to be competitive,” said Hada. “It will be competitive and difficult for everyone but we’ll train well and work hard for each game.”
With many leagues in central and east Asia still to finish their seasons, a number of teams will have to wait to find out who they will face in next year’s ACL.
Twice champions Guangzhou Evergrande will meet Melbourne Victory from Australia in Group F plus the winners of the Korean FA Cup final and whoever emerges from a playoff featuring clubs from Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar.
Jeonbuk Motors, who have also won the title twice, will face Thailand’s Buriram United, the Chinese FA Cup winners and the victors in Japan’s Emperor’s Cup in Group G while Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim are the only team confirmed in Group E.
In the west of the continent, Qatar’s Al Duhail, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, Al Ain from the United Arab Emirates and Iranian side Esteghlal feature in a heavyweight Group C.
Group D sees Persepolis from Iran and Qatar’s Al Sadd renew their rivalry after meeting in this year’s semi-finals, along with Al Ahli from Saudi Arabia and a playoff winner.
Two playoff winners will be in Group A with Al Wasl of the UAE and Iraq’s Al Zawraa. Twice champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia face UAE’s Al Wahda, the eventual Uzbekistan champions and a playoff winner from Qatar, Iran or India in Group B.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by)