A still image shows the draw for AFC champions league preliminary stage at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Dec 6, 2011. [Photo/titan24.com]
China's newly-crowned champions Guangzhou Evergrande will meet South Korean and Japanese powerhouses in the toughest of the eight groups for next year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.
The Chinese Super League (CSL) winners will encounter former AFC champion and last year's runner-up Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors from South Korea and J-league Division One champion Kashiwa Reysol in Group H, following the draw in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
The ambitious Guangdong-based club clinched their maiden title last season after winning the Division One league champion and stormed to promotion last year, one year after their relegation for match-fixing.
The club have spent big on their squad over the past 18 months including the record signing of Argentine Conca, the highest-paid player in CSL with an annual salary of $7 million, before they changed ownership in 2010 to the cash rich Evergrande Group, one of the ten largest real estate developers in China.
Tokuaki Suzuki, director of competitions for Asian Football Confederation (AFC), holds up a slip for Guangzhou Evergrande of China during the draw for the AFC Champions League, at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Dec 6, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
Jeonbuk, the 2006 Asian champions who lost to Qatar's Al Sadd on penalties in the AFC finals last year, claimed their second K-League title in three years by defeating Ulsan Hyundai on Sunday.
Japan's Kashiwa, promoted to the top flight at the start of the season, won their maiden J-League title last Saturday and will open their Club World Cup campaign against New Zealand's Auckland City this Thursday.
Thailand's yet to be decided league champions will be the fourth team in what has become known as the group of death.
CSL runner-up Beijing Guo'an, who continued to chase their AFC dream after last year's absence, will take on K-league runner-up Ulsan Hyundai in the first round of Group F game while third-placed Tianjin Teda were drawn in Group G with Australian League second-placed Central Coast Mariners.
Qatar's Al Sadd missed out on the chance of defending their title after they failed to qualify for 2012, finishing sixth in the country's league last season.
The group stages will kick off on March 6, 2012 and will be played in the home-and-away format. The two top teams from each group will advance to the round of 16.