Shenhua drawn with Kashima, Sydney in ACL

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua has been drawn into Group H along with Sydney FC and Kashima Antlers, while SIPG could face Kawasaki Frontale, Melbourne Victory and Ulsan Hyundai.
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The draw for the 2018 AFC Champions League was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday.

This season's Chinese FA Cup winner Shanghai Greenland Shenhua has been drawn into Group H along with Australia’s Sydney FC, Japan’s Kashima Antlers and a qualifier in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

Shanghai SIPG, which lost to Shenhua in the CFA Cup final last month, will take on Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale, Australia’s Melbourne Victory and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea if it advances from the qualification round.

The draw for the 2018 AFC Champions League was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday afternoon.

This year's Chinese Super League winner and two-time ACL champion Guangzhou Evergrande had a favorable draw, being bunched with South Korea’s Jeju United, Thailand’s Buriram United and winner of the Japanese Emperor’s Cup in Group G.

Tianjin Quanjian, which finished third in the CSL, will kick off its debut ACL season in the qualification round. It will likely take on Australian side Brisbane Roar in the qualifier. It was Brisbane that eliminated Shenhua in the one-leg qualifier in the 2017 ACL.

If Tianjin advances to the group stage, it will encounter South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Kitchee of China’s Hong Kong, and a J league team.

Shenhua players are on a one-month break after winning the club’s second CFA Cup title by beating SIPG in the two-legged final. The team will gather at the end of December and head to Spain’s Marbella for a one-month winter training.

SIPG, which also finished runner-up in the 2017 CSL, is without a head coach after Portuguese Andre Villas-Boas decided against extending his contract with the club.

It will be SIPG’s third straight AFC qualification journey, and its opponent in next year’s qualifier will likely be Thailand’s Chiangrai United.

The qualifiers for the 2018 ACL will kick off on January 30. The first round of the group stage matches will be held on February 13-14. By April 18, all group stage matches shall be over, and the final eight will be unveiled by May 16. The league will then give way to the 2018 World Cup until the end of August. The finals will be held in November next year.

With the defending champion not gaining automatic qualification, Urawa Red Diamonds, who won the 2017 title in November with a 2-1 aggregate win over al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia, will not defend their crown after failing to claim a place through Japan's domestic competitions.

Al-Hilal, meanwhile, will face Iran's Esteghlal and Qatar's al-Rayyan next year, as it makes a fresh bid to end years of dominance by East Asian clubs.

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