February 5 – The Asian Cup may only have just finished, but there is little respite for Asia’s players as the qualifiers for this year’s AFC Asian Champions League, the continent’s premier club competition, get underway today.
There are three preliminary round one encounters scheduled to open the competition with Jordan’s Al Wehdat taking on Al Kuwait in the west region, Philippines’ Ceres Negros FC, who supplied the bulk of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team at the Asian Cup, playing Myanmar’s Yangon United FC and Singapore’s Home United facing off with Indonesia’s Persija Jakarta in the east region.
On February 12, a second preliminary round follows. Every tie is played as a single match and the eight winners of the play-off round will progress to the group stages, alongside 24 direct entrants. All losers in each round from associations with only play-off slots enter the AFC Cup group stage.
“For sure, we’re ambitious,” said Ceres Negros coach Risto Vidakovic. “We still have a lot of things to work on but I think the players are motivated to repeat what they did before. It’s very difficult to qualify for the Champions League group stage but we are going to compete, we’re going to give everything we have to qualify.”
For Ceres Negros and the other early entrants the road to the Champions League is full of obstacles. Ceres Negros would face Thailand’s Chiangrai United and Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the play-off to seal a spot among Asia’s best 32. The winner of Al Wehdat – Al Kuwait will play Iran’s Zob Ahan and then Qatar’s Al Garafa for a berth in the Champions League. Home United and Persija Jakarta face the prospect of playing Australia’s Newcastle Jets and Kashima Antlers, last season winners.
Last season the Japanese club defeated Iran’s Persepolis over two legs 2-0 in the final, but they finished third in the 2018 J-League behind Kawasaki Frontale and Hiroshima. That third-place finish condemned the reigning champions to a play-off for the right to defend their title.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1702228561labto1702228561ofdlr1702228561owedi1702228561sni@o1702228561fni1702228561