Asia’s top club competition kicks off

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Asia’s top club competition kicks off

The continent’s premier club football competition is set to kick off this week, as four Korean teams vie for regional bragging rights.

The Asian Football Confederations Champions League will start with eight group-stage matches today and eight more tomorrow. The K-League, the top-division in the Korean league, has four representatives among 32 clubs in the opening round.

Tonight, the Pohang Steelers, who won the 2009 Champions League, will start its Group E campaign against Gamba Osaka of Japan’s J-League on the road at 7 p.m. Then at 7:30 p.m. on the same day, Ulsan Hyundai FC, the K-League runner-up in 2011, will host Beijing Guoan of the Chinese Super League in Group F.

Two more K-League clubs will play tomorrow.

At 7 p.m., it’s the defending K-League champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors playing host to the reigning Chinese champion, Guangzhou Evergrande FC, in Group H.

Also at 7 p.m., Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, the 2010 Champions League winner, will square off against Nagoya Grampus of the J-League in a Group G contest.

These teams will be back for their second group matches in two weeks.

There are eight groups of four clubs, and they play each other twice in a home-and-away setting. The top two teams from each group will make up the round of 16.

The group stage will wrap up in mid-May and the knockout phase begins later that month. The quarterfinals and the semifinals are scheduled for September and October. The one-and-done championship match will be held on either Nov. 9 or Nov. 10.

The K-League has produced nine Champions League winners, more than any other league, including two of the past three.

Jeonbuk and Ulsan earned their spots as the K-League’s top two clubs, and Seongnam earned its ticket as the FA Cup champion. Pohang, the No. 3 seed from the K-League, made the Champions League by winning a playoff.

Jeonbuk, the runner-up to Qatar’s Al Sadd in last year’s Champions League, is paired with other Asian league champions in Group H, the proverbial “group of death.”

Joining Jeonbuk and Guangzhou, led by Korean coach Lee Jang-soo, are Kashiwa Reysol, the 2011 J-League champ, and Buriram United, which claimed the Thai Premier League title last year.

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