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Shenhua face tough Asian Champions League

AFC National Team Competitions Director Shin Man Gil announcing the 2018 AFC Champions League draw © AFP / Manan VATSYAYANA

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 6Chinese FA Cup winners Shanghai Shenhua face a tough test in the 2018 Asian Champions League after being drawn Wednesday against top Japanese club Kashima Antlers and Australian A-League leaders Sydney FC.

The Chinese side unexpectedly beat expensively assembled rivals Shanghai SIPG in last month’s FA Cup final, without Argentine forward Carlos Tevez whose future in China is in doubt after a poor run of form.

But they have a fight on their hands in the group stage of Asia’s premier club competition against Antlers, finalists in the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup and Sydney.

Two-time winners and Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande will face South Korea’s Jeju United, Thailand’s Buriram United and the winner of Japan’s Emperor’s Cup, following the draw in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

2017 AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan are not competing after failing to qualify.

Runners-up Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia face Iran’s Esteghlal and Qatar’s Al-Rayyan, as they make a fresh bid to end years of dominance by East Asian clubs.

Meanwhile 2016 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea are set to return to the tournament after being barred last year due to a bribery scandal.

The group stage runs from February to April with the West and East Asian teams kept apart until the final in November.

Group A: Al Jazira (UAE), Al Ahli (KSA), Tractorsazi Tabriz (IRI), Winner of Playoff 3

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Group B: Al Duhail SC (QAT), Al Wahda (UAE), PFC Lokomotiv (UZB), Winner of Playoff 2

Group C: Persepolis FC (IRI), Al Sadd SC (QAT), Al Wasl (UAE), Winner of Playoff 4

Group D: Al Hilal SFC (KSA), Esteghlal FC (IRI), Al Rayyan SC (QAT), Winner of Playoff 1

Group E: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (KOR), Kitchee SC (HKG), Winner of Play-off 4, Winner of Play-off 2

Group F: Kawasaki Frontale (JPN), Ulsan Hyundai FC (KOR), Melbourne Victory (AUS), Winner of Playoff 3

Group G: Guangzhou Evergrande FC (CHN), Japan 2nd Club, Jeju United FC (KOR), Buriram United (THA)

Group H: Sydney FC (AUS), Shanghai Shenhua FC (CHN), Kashima Antlers (JPN), Winner of Playoff 1

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