Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande were handed a tough AFC Champions League draw against two former winners on Thursday, complicating their bid to end China's long Asian trophy drought.
The Chinese champions, marshalled by their FIFA World Cup™-winning Italian coach, were placed in a difficult Group F with Korea Republic's Jeonbuk Motors and Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, winners in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
Newly crowned J.League winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima were pitted against Beijing Guoan, Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor and South Korean side Pohang Steelers, the 2009 champions, in Group G.
South Korea's K-League winners FC Seoul, Vegalta Sendai of Japan and Jiangsu Sainty, runners-up to Lippi's Guangzhou in the Chinese Super League, await the play-off winners.
The harsh draw is a setback for ambitious Guangzhou, who reached the quarter-finals on debut this year and are attempting to become China's first Asian champions since Liaoning won the former Asian Club Championship in 1990.
"Lippi was very disappointed that we didn't make it as far as the semi-finals, but next year we will prepare according to the AFC Champions League schedule and we will give the competition more priority," Guangzhou's Zheng Zhi said before the draw.
"We accomplished the goals we established at the beginning of this year because the main focus for us was the AFC Champions League since it was the first year that Guangzhou Evergrande had played in the competition."
In the west Asian bracket, inaugural winners Al Ain of UAE were drawn against Iranian Cup-winners Esteghlal, along with Al Rayyan of Qatar and Saudi side Al Hilal in Group D.
Play-offs are on February 9 and the home-and-away group stage begins on February 26, before a knock-out round of 16 in May. The competition breaks until late August and wraps up with a two-legged final completed in November.