Newcastle must win two games to make the make rounds of the Asian Champions League.A-League representatives Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory are in Malaysia for the Asian Champions League draw on Thursday but are preparing to leave the occasion without a full picture of the continental challenges that await.
That’s because the 2019 draw, already as complicated as a Rubik’s Cube, is happening before South Korea, Japan and China have finalised their qualifiers.
Japan’s Kashima Antlers were crowned champions of Asia earlier this month after they defeated Iran’s Persepolis 2-0 in their two-legged final.
It’s the potential opponents from Japan that hold the most intrigue for n eyes.
Former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou won’t be there as his Yokohama F.Marinos side settles for a mid-table finish.
Besart Berisha could find himself opposing A-League opposition once more if Sanfrecce Hiroshima hold onto their league position.
Andrew Nabbout’s Urawa Red Diamonds could also sneak into contention with the right results.
And then there’s the mouth-watering prospect of Keisuke Honda taking on a Japanese club for the first time in his career.
Victory are hoping they’ll be pitted against a Japanese outfit in the draw to set up the grand occasion.
A-League grand finalists Newcastle Jets have been thrown a challenging qualifying route, asked to play two matches to reach the group stage.
The first is on February 12, when they’ll play Singapore’s Home United or yet-to-be-determined Indonesian champions.
The second match, a week later, will send them to Japan to face one of the J.League’s four representatives – a tough ask.
South Korea have confirmed two representatives; runaway champions Jeonbuk Motors and Ulsan Hyundai.
Perennial Chinese contenders Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande are also locked in for the group stage, with Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guoan’s forthcoming cup final also doubling as a battle for direct group stage entry.
Buriram United of Thailand and Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim – both champions of their domestic leagues – will also feature in the group stages.
Four of the 12 East Region direct group stage entrants are yet to be confirmed, causing major flow-on effects for seedings and pots.