2007 AFC Champions League kicks-off Wednesday

The inclusion of two Australian teams has added a new dimension to this season’s AFC Champions League, which kicks off with 13 matches in 12 different countries. Sydney FC and Adelaide United will both make their debuts in Asia’s premier club competition, which will be contested over eight months by 28 teams from 15 countries. “It’s an historic event for Australian football,” Sydney captain Mark Rudan told the Sydney Morning Herald. “All of the Sydney players involved will be able to look back on their careers and say we, along with Adelaide United, were the first to represent Australia in this event. The players realise only too well how important an occasion it is.”

Most of Australia’s top internationals are based in Europe and because the Champions League draw was finalised before the end of the 2007 season, the country’s leading club Melbourne Victory, will not be included until next season. The two Australian teams are also drawn in the toughest half of the draw, alongside other teams from ASEAN and East Asia, who make up three of the seven groups. The remaining four groups are made up of teams from West and Central and South Asia. Sydney, who qualified by winning the inaugural A-League championship in 2006, were drawn in Group E along with teams from China, Japan and Indonesia while Adelaide are in Group F with clubs from China, South Korea and Vietnam.

Factbox on the 2007 AFC Champions League.

* The AFC Champions League is Asia’s premier club competition with the winners representing the Asian Football Confederation in the FIFA Club World Championship.

* The competition dates back to the 1967 Asian Champions Cup won by Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel. In 2002, the Championship was merged with the Asian Cup Winners Cup to form the AFC Champions League.

* Eighteen different clubs have won the title since 1967, including seven which have won it twice. No club has won the tournament three times. South Korea have been the most successful country in the competition, providing seven winners.

* The 2007 tournament will be contested by 28 teams from 15 countries in the region – Australia, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, South Korea, Syria, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

* Teams qualified for the tournament either by winning their national or their national cup competition.

* The defending champions, Chonbuk Motors of South Korea, advance automatically to the quarter-finals.

* The remaining 27 teams are split into six groups of four and one group of three. Originally there were seven groups of four but Group B was reduced to three teams after Esteghal Tehran of Iran was disqualified for failing to fulfill the competition’s player registration requirements.

* Each of the seven groups will stage a home-and-away round-robin competition between March and May. The seven group winners will join Chonbuk Motors in the quarter-finals.

* The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will be played as a knockout competition, with each stage played over two home-and-away legs in September, October and November.