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United City drawn into tough ACL group

Kaya Iloilo and United City finally found out who their opponents are in their upcoming Asian football stints this year. PFL (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--United City is set to get a baptism of fire in its AFC Champions League debut as no less than fellow domestic title contenders will join the club in one of the preliminary stage groups.

Following the result of the group draw on Wednesday in the AFC's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, the reigning PFL champion was placed in Group I alongside Japan's Kawasaki Frontale and China's Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao.

Coached by Toru Oniki and led by captain Shogo Taniguchi and Japan's 2018 FIFA World Cup player Ryota Oshima, Kawasaki won the J1 League title last year.

On the other hand, the Fabio Cannavaro-coached Guangzhou side was the hottest club in the Chinese Super League last decade, winning eight titles in the nine seasons the club was in the top division during the said span.

However, Guangzhou was dethroned last year after losing to eventual first time champ Jiangsu Suning in the finals of the CSL's special season tournament.

A showdown between T1 powerhouse Ratchaburi and K-League club Pohang Steelers on April 14 will decide which team will complete Group I.

Interestingly enough, a Ratchaburi win would mean OJ Porteria, who joined the club fresh from helping United City clinch the PFL title last November, will take on his former club.

Also possibly booking a showdown against their former club are Luke Woodland and Curt Dizon, who played for United City when it was still known as Ceres Negros.

Meanwhile, should Kaya Iloilo survive the ACL qualifiers, they will be placed in Group F along with K-League's Ulsan Hyundai, T1's BG Pathum United, and Vietnam's Viettel.

Kaya Iloilo must first beat A-League side Brisbane Roar on April 7 to force a clash with Beijing FC the following week for the right to join Group F.

Kaya Iloilo will still get to play Asian football even if it misses out on the ACL qualification as it has already secured a spot in next year's AFC Cup.

Interestingly enough, Kaya Iloilo was placed in Group I as well alongside Malaysian club Terengganu and Singaporean squad Geylang.

A fourth club from Myanmar will complete Group I of the AFC Cup, but it will depend on Shan United's own ACL qualification bid.

Shan will take on Melbourne in the first round of the qualifiers on April 7 with the winner battling Cerezo Osaka a week after.

The winner of the clash between Osaka and the Shan-Melbourne victor will complete Group J of the ACL Group Stages, joining Shandong Luneng of China, Port of Thailand, and Kitchee of Hong Kong.

Shan will be placed in Group I of the AFC Cup if it fails to make the ACL group stages, which is scheduled from April 21-May 7 at a soon to be announced bubble location.

Otherwise, standby club Ayeyawady United will enter the AFC Cup group stages, which will run from June 22-28.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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