Sydney FC, Victory get tough draws in AFC Champions League
MELBOURNE -- Sydney FC could see the return of Socceroos defender Matt Jurman in the AFC Champions League but for fellow A-League participants Melbourne Victory it's about who they've avoided in the draw for next year's competition.
Victory were kept apart from Korean nemesis Jeonbuk Motors in Wednesday night's draw in Kuala Lumpur but face a tough test to reach the knockout stage all the same.
Kevin Muscat's side were pitted against J-League winners Kawasaki Frontale and Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai -- as well as a playoff winner likely to be China's Shanghai SIPG.
Jeonbuk knocked out Victory on their past two appearances in the competition, in 2014 and 2016, with Muscat in two minds about missing them in 2018.
"It's nice to miss Jeonbuk although half of me was hoping we'd get them again because we owe them one," he said.
"You are always going to face good teams ... but it's a tough group, make no mistake."
Helping Victory and the Sky Blues is the introduction of split A-League rounds, which will help with match congestion.
"It's not perfect, but if we compare it to what has been dealt up in the past it's a significant improvement," Muscat said.
"The FFA have given it a lot of thought.
"Our last opportunity in the competition we progressed for the first time.
"We got beaten 3-2 over two leags by Jeonbuk, the eventual champions, and ... we want to progress again."
Jurman's return to Allianz Stadium depends on his Korean club Suwon Bluewings winning a playoff to join Sydney FC in Group H. The romantic meeting would take place, fittingly, on Feb. 14.
His former boss Graham Arnold, whose side come up against Shanghai Shenhua of China and Japan's Kashima Antlers, welcomed the draw.
"Shanghai Shenhua are a massive club and our boys will enjoy testing themselves against a side who can attract the likes of Carlos Tevez and Obafemi Martins to their team," he said.
"It will be great for the fans to welcome Matt Jurman back home if we do end up against Suwon."
Brisbane Roar could join the two A-League grand finalists in the competition, should they come through two playoffs in January.
If John Aloisi's side win a home tie with a southeastern minnow, they'll travel to China's Tianjin Quanjian on Jan. 30 for the right to join group E -- which includes Korean champions Jeonbuk and Hong Kong's Kitchee.
Victory will kick off their campaign with a home tie against Ulsan on Feb. 13.
AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW - EAST ASIA
GROUP E: Jeonbuk (South Korea), Kitchee (Hong Kong), Playoff winner, Playoff winner - possibly BRISBANE ROAR
GROUP F: Kawasaki Frontale (Japan), Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea), MELBOURNE VICTORY, Playoff winner
GROUP G: Guangzhou Evergrande (China), Japanese club TBC, Jeju United (South Korea), Buriram United (Thailand)
GROUP H: SYDNEY FC, Shanghai Shenhua (China), Kashima Antlers (Japan), Playoff winner