Robinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari will be coming to Sydney after their club, Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande, were drawn against the Sky Blues in their 2016 Asian Champions League group – while Melbourne Victory will face Korean champions Suwon Bluewings.
The other Australian team in the running for the ACL, Adelaide United, will have to win their way through a play-off round – which, if they are successful, will see them pitted against FC Seoul and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, a team they faced in 2010.
Both Sydney and Melbourne have been placed in groups where only two of the teams have been finalised. Sydney’s Japanese opponent will be the third-highest ranked qualifier from the Japan, while the second-highest ranked Japanese qualifier, potentially Gamba Osaka or Urawa Red Diamonds, will land in Victory’s group.
As Japan’s Emperor’s Cup winner – decided on January 1 next year – is granted automatic qualification, any number of clubs could be Japan’s third entrant, with the cup competition only at the quarter-final stage.
Both groups will also comprise a team coming through the playoff system, with Victory’s group playoff representative expected to be Chinese club Shanghai SIPG, now home to Ghanian star Asamoah Gyan and brilliant Argentine Dario Conca. Sydney’s group is expected to house three-time Asian champions Pohang Steelers.
It is the fifth time Victory have participated in the Asian Champions League, but they have never participated beyond the group stage. This will be Sydney FC’s third appearance and their first since 2011.
Having faced Guangzhou previously during his time with the Central Coast Mariners, Sydney coach Graham Arnold is hoping to utilise that experience in his first foray into Asia with the Sky Blues.
“I had the privilege of coming up against Guangzhou when I was at the Mariners when we made the last 16 when Marcello Lippi was coach,” Arnold said.
“I’ve had experience with Guangzhou and going there, I’ve got two years’ experience in the Asian Champions League so I know what it’s about, so I’ll use my experiences hopefully to good stead.
“It’s a good draw. Getting Guangzhou is going to be a great test for us and it’s exciting for us to be taking on the team that’s been crowned Champions of Asia twice in the last three years and also facing them in Sydney.”
Western Sydney Wanderers famously won an ACL quarter-final against the Chinese giants in 2014, enraging coach Marcello Lippi, who stormed the field. His replacement, Fabio Cannavaro, secured a win over the Wanderers at Pirtek Stadium earlier this year.
However, Cannavaro’s stint did not last and Asia’s richest club recruited another World Cup winner, ex-Chelsea boss Scolari, to take the reins.
He subsequently guided the club to continental glory last month as they claimed a 1-0 aggregate win over UAE surprise packets Al-Ahli.
The club now boast a string of top class Brazilians on their books, with former Manchester City star Robinho – reportedly earning US$1 million per month on a contract that expires soon – joined by ex-Tottenham midfielder Paulinho, Champions League top scorer Ricardo Goulart and the scorer of the goal in the ACL final, Elkeson.
To make it to the ACL group stage, Adelaide will almost certainly have to defeat Chinese club Shandong Luneng – a club they formed a sister relationship with after playing in 2008.