Contenders handed tough draw
© Getty Images

A little less than a month after losing 3-1 on aggregate to Seongnam Chunma in the AFC Champions League final, Zob Ahan discovered the hurdles they must overcome to reach the knockout phase of the 2011 edition when the draw unfolded yesterday. Iran’s emerging power, who surprisingly won a section including Bunyodkor and Al Ittihad earlier this year, have been handed hard assignments in the shape of this year's semi-finalists Al Shabab, Qatari Cup holders Al Rayyan and debutants Emirates.

Seongnam, who kick off their FIFA Club World Cup campaign on Saturday, failed to qualify for next year’s Asian finals after recently losing out to Jeonbuk Motors in the second round of the K-League play-offs.

Despite the absence of the reigning champions, however, the tournament is set to capture increasing attention across Asia with the draw throwing up some intriguing pools. In west Asia, old foes meet again with two-time champions Al Ittihad pitted against Bunyodkor in Group C, while Al Hilal cross paths with Qatari champions Al-Gharafa, whom they beat in this year's quarter-finals.

In the east zone, 2006 winners Jeonbuk lock horns with Chinese champions Shandong Luneng in Group G, while 2008 kings Gamba Osaka encounter first-timers Jeju United in Group E, which also features Australian outfit Melbourne Victory and Chinese giants Tianjin Teda.

AFC Champions League 2011, group draw
West Asia
Group A
Al Hilal (KSA)
Al Gharafa (QAT)
Al Jazira (UAE)
Sepahan (IRN)

Group B
Esteghlal (IRN)
Al Nassr (KSA)
Pakhtakor (UZB)
Winner of western play-off

Group C
Al Wahda (UAE)
Piroozi (IRN)
Al Ittihad (KSA)
Bunyodkor (UZB)

Group D
Al Rayyan (QAT)
Emirates (UAE)
Zob Ahan (IRN)
Al Shabab (KSA)

East Asia
Group E
Jeju United (KOR)
Melbourne Victory (AUS)
Gamba Osaka (JPN)
Tianjin Teda (CHN)

Group F
Hangzhou Greentown (CHN)
FC Seoul (KOR)
Winner of eastern Play-off
Nagoya Grampus (JPN)

Group G
Cerezo Osaka (JPN)
Shandong Luneng (CHN)
Jeonbuk Motors (KOR)
Arema FC (INA)

Group H
Sydney FC (AUS)
Winner of Emperor’s Cup or Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Shanghai Shenhua (CHN)
Suwon Bluewings (KOR)