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Inside the A-League's ACL opponents

by Ben Somerford on Dec 07, 2011

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Goal.com's Asian Football Editor Ben Somerford takes an in-depth look at the sides who the A-League representatives will face in the 2012 AFC Champions League after Tuesday's draw.

Australia's THREE 2012 AFC Champions League representatives all avoided the group of death at Tuesday's draw, but is it all good news and who really are the team's Adelaide, Brisbane and the Mariners will face?

Indeed, Group H is the group of death with the champions of Japan, Korea and China – Kashiwa Reysol, Jeonbuk Motors and Guangzhou Evergrande – all drawn together. You've got to feel for the yet to be decided Thai champions who are the fourth team in that group.

But let's look deeper and analyse our Aussie clubs' opponents particularly champions Brisbane Roar, who will have big expectations on their shoulders during the 2012 ACL after their record-breaking domestic run.

Brisbane Roar – Group F
Opponents; Ulsan Hyundai (Korea), Beijing Guoan (China) & the Japanese Emperor's Cup winners

K-League finalists Ulsan Hyundai are an interesting prospect for the Roar, given they finished the Korean regular season down in sixth before a stunning run to the decider in the play-offs. Kim Ho-Gon's side are a very defensive outfit, with a record of 33 goals for and 29 against in 30 regular season games in 2011. Korea international defender Kwak Tae-Hwi is a key to their defensive steel, while ex-Wolverhampton, Reading and Fulham forward Seol Ki-Hyeon emerged during the play-offs. Ulsan are a side who love to play on the counter and they'll be an interesting prospect for a Brisbane team who'll be looking to boss the game.

Chinese runners-up Beijing Guoan will be familiar with Aussie fans due to Joel Griffiths' presence, however his future at the club remains up in the air somewhat. Guoan were excellent in the CSL in 2011, but they were bettered by the well-financed Guangzhou Evergrande. Griffiths was a key in attack, along with Honduras international Walter Martinez however he seems set to leave the club in a blow to their 2012 aspirations. China international keeper Yang Zhi ensured Guoan had the best defensive record in China last season and has emerged as a very reliable stopper.

The Japanese Emperor's Cup final won't be played until January 1 and currently there's still 16 teams remaining in the knockout competition, so it's anyone's bet who will take this spot.

Adelaide United – Group E
Opponents; Gamba Osaka (Japan), Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan) & Pohang Steelers or Thai FA Cup winners

The Reds, who finished the 2010-11 A-League regular season in third, have qualified by default through the play-offs with 2010-11 Indonesian Premier League champions Persipura Jayapura disqualified for competing in the breakaway Super League which the AFC doesn't recognise as an official competition. Chinese third-place getters Liaoning Whowin also withdrew from the draw, claiming they didn't want to be forced to enter the AFC Cup if they failed to qualify due to the travel costs involved.

Gamba Osaka are a team the Reds are well acquainted with following their 2008 ACL decider, but they are a different outfit nowadays, particularly following the recent departure of long-time coach Akira Nishino with Brazilian Wagner Lopes favoured to take over at the helm. That change could disrupt Gamba who still have the services of the supremely talented Yasuhito Endo plus dangerous Brazilian striker Rafinha who was a revelation at the end of the 2011 campaign.

Uzbek giants Bunyodkor are another side Adelaide will be familiar with, having faced off in the 2008 ACL semi-finals. The long trip to Tashkent will take it out of the Reds, plus the challenge of facing a side who won their domestic league by eight points in 2011. Bunyodkor may no longer have big names like Rivaldo, Zico or Luiz Felipe Scolari, but they represent a huge obstacle for Adelaide.

Strangely Pohang Steelers are another club the Reds have faced in Asian competition previously, having met the group stages in both 2008 and 2010. Pohang, who were Asian champions in 2009, finished the K-League regular season in second and are another huge challenge for Adelaide, although they do have an ageing squad, relying on veterans Mota and Derek Asamoah. The Thai FA Cup are still some way from being decided, with the competition at its quarter-final stage. The quarter-finals won't be played until January 4 either.

Central Coast Mariners – Group G
Opponents; Tianjin Teda (China), Seongnam Ilhwa (Korea) & Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

Tianjin Teda, who are the only team in this group without an Aussie on their squad, qualify for the 2012 edition as Chinese FA Cup winners, having won the final 2-1 over Shandong Luneng recently with ex-Benfica youngster Yu Dabao hitting the winner. However, Tianjin have their problems with coach Arie Haan leaving the club after the triumph in light of the team's 10th place CSL finish where they drew far too many games and shipped too many goals too. Arguably the weakest team in the group.

Sasa Ognenovski's Seongnam Ilhwa were famously Asian champions in 2010 but had a nightmare 2011 after selling a host of their best players including Colombian attacker Mauricio Molina and Korea international keeper Jung Sung-Ryong as the club tried to balance the books. Pegasus, who finished the 2011 K-League season down in 10th, only qualified for the 2012 ACL after winning the FA Cup like Tianjin. Seongnam are likely to be stronger in 2012, particularly with young Korea international Hong Chul progressing and following prolific midfielder Kim Jung-Woo's return to the club after military service. Seongnam are managed by ex-Brisbane midfielder Shin Tae-Yong too.

Japan's 2010 champions Nagoya Grampus qualify for the 2012 ACL as J-League runners-up, although they could've been champions had it not been for injuries early in the campaign which had them behind the eightball. Dragan Stojkovic's side will be familiar for Aussie fans due to Socceroo Joshua Kennedy's presence and he'll a key to their side after winning Japan's Golden Boot in the past two seasons. Stojkovic gets Grampus playing some good football with Yoshizumi Ogawa, Jungo Fujimoto and the improving Kensuke Nagai excellent on the ball. Marcus Tulio Tanaka is a rock at the back and there's no doubt this side will be a force to be reckoned with in this group.