KUALA LUMPUR - Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande will face former AFC Champions League winners Urawa Reds from Japan and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors from South Korea in the Group Stage of the 2013 tournament following Thursday's draw in Kuala Lumpur.
Guangzhou reached the quarterfinals on their maiden AFC Champions League appearance earlier this year after eliminating 2006 champions Jeonbuk in the Group Stage having begun the campaign with a memorable 5-1 win in South Korea.
Urawa, who became the first Japanese side to win the AFC Champions League in 2007, ensured a return to the Group Stage for the first time since reaching the semifinals in 2008 by finishing third in the J. League this season.
Thailand champions SCG Muangthong United complete the line-up in Group F with the Group Stage beginning at the end of February with the top two sides in each group advancing to May's Round of 16, which will be played over two legs.
"The draw will not decide the competition; the ability of the players will decide the result. Last season we reached the quarterfinal, but in the new season we aim to win the AFC Champions League," said Guangzhou Evergrand President Liu Yongzhou.
"This year was the first year we played in the ACL and this has given us a lot of information and experience we can use in 2013."
Elsewhere, recently crowned J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima will face China's Beijing Guo'an, 2009 champions Pohang Steelers from South Korea and Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor in Group G, while A-League Premiers Central Coast Mariners, China's Guizhou Renhe, South Korea's Suwon Bluewings and the yet to be determined Emperor's Cup winners from Japan will meet in Group H.
Windsor John, AFC's executive director displays a draw for China's Jiangsu Sainty in the Group E of the official draw for the 2012 AFC Champions League group stage in Kuala Lumpur, Nov 6, 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]
Also on the East side of the draw, K-League champions FC Seoul begin their quest to maintain South Korea's strong recent AFC Champions League tradition following Ulsan Hyundai's 2012 triumph in Group E alongside Japan's Vegalta Sendai, China's Jiangsu Sainty and the winner of the play-off involving A-League Grand Final winners Brisbane Roar and Thailand's Buriram United.
In the West, beaten 2012 finalists Al Ahli from Saudi Arabia will begin their campaign in Group G alongside three-time Iran champions Foolad Sepahan, Qatar's Al Gharafa and the winner of the play-off involving UAE Pro League side Al Nasr and Uzbekistan's Lokomotiv.
Having edged out Al Ahli by just two points to end their six-year wait for the Saudi League title, Al Shabab will face UAE President's Cup winners Al Jazira, Iranian runners-up Tractorsazi and Qatar's El Jaish in Group A.
"It is the first time we are playing in the AFC Champions League as the runners-up from the Iran League and we are confident we have enough ability to be able to perform in the AFC Champions League," said Tractorsazi Club President Mohamad Jafari.
"We have been drawn in a good group and we are happy with the draw. Al Shabab from Saudi Arabia will be the strongest team we will have to play."
Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal, Iran's Esteghlal, Al Ain from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar's Al Rayyan take their place in Group D, with Qatar champions Lekhwiya, Saudi Arabia's Al Ettifaq, Uzbekistan champions Pakhtakor and the winner of the play-off involving Iran's Sabaye Qom and UAE Pro League side Al Shabab Al Arabi making up Group B.
"2013 is going to be another exciting year and I'm looking forward to it," said AFC General Secretary Dato' Alex Soosay.
"We're going to see an exciting AFC Champions League. We have changed the format and we are going to a two-leg Round of 16 and a two-leg final, and it's going to be very exciting next year."