Champions League draw pits Jeonbuk against Japanese runner-up
The AFC on Monday announced the draw for the 2022 Champions League, with the two Korean sides guaranteed a spot in the continental tournament facing very different journeys to the knockout stage.
K League 1 champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were drawn in Group H alongside Japanese club Yokohama F. Marinos, Vietnamese club Hoang Anh Gia Lai and an as-yet-undetermined playoff winner.
The draw gives Jeonbuk some tough competition in the form of J League runner-up Yokohama. The two clubs have recent Champions League history, having both been drawn in Group H in 2020. Yokohama won both games on that occasion — 2-1, 4-1, to top the group — while Jeonbuk failed to advance.
FA Cup winners Jeonnam Dragons, the only other Korean team guaranteed a spot at the Champions League, face a far easier group stage.
K League 2 club Jeonnam were drawn in Group G alongside Thai side BG Pathum, United City of the Philippines and Melbourne City of Australia.
Both BG Pathum and United City have more recent Champions League experience than Jeonnam, who haven't qualified for the continental tournament since 2008.
BG Pathum last year competed in Group F alongside Ulsan Hyundai, losing both games to the Korean side 2-0. The Thai club still progressed to the knockout stage, losing 4-2 to Jeonbuk on penalties.
United City were drawn in Group I last year alongside Daegu FC, losing both games to the Korean club by significant margins: 7-0, 4-0.
Two more Korean clubs could earn a spot in the Champions League if they win their playoffs in March. K League runner-up Ulsan will take on Thai club Port FC and third-place finisher Daegu will take on Thai club Buriram United.
If they pass the playoffs, both Ulsan and Daegu will end up in competitive groups.
If Daegu wins, the club will join Group F alongside Chinese double winners Shandong Taishan, Japan's Emperor's Cup winners Urawa Red Dragons and Singaporean league champion Lion City Sailors.
Ulsan would also face a tough draw in Group I, alongside Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale, China's Guangzhou and Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim.
The AFC Champions League is divided into an eastern and western tournament that only come together for the final. Groups A to E are part of the Champions League West competition, with Groups F to J in the Champions League East competition.
The top team from each group advances to the knockout stage, as well as the three best runner-up teams from both the East and West tournaments. The Round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals are played between teams from each side of the bracket, with the final then pitching the best team from East and West against each other.
Last year, the Pohang Steelers reached the final, but lost to Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]