Guide to this season’s AFC Champions League & AFC Cup: Will Aussies take on Saudi stars?

Melbourne City, Central Coast Mariners and Macarthur FC will discover their AFC opponents, but which competitions are they playing in and how does the draw work?

When are the draws?

The draws for the 2023-24 AFC Champions League and AFC Cup group stages will take place in Kuala Lumpur on August 24.

How can I watch them?

Both draws will be streamed live on KEEPUP’s YouTube channel.

AFC Cup:  From 4pm, Thursday 24th August

AFC Champions League: From 6pm, Thursday 24th August

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Who is representing Australia?

Three-time reigning Isuzu UTE A-League premiers Melbourne City are the sole representatives in the Champions League, which will also boast Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr after they won their play-off.

City booked their spot in Asia’s most prestigious club competition as they accrued the most points across the 2021-22 and 2022-23 A-League Men seasons.

Isuzu UTE A-League champions Central Coast Mariners have been granted a spot in the AFC Cup, along with Macarthur FC.

Macarthur qualified by virtue of winning the 2022 Australia Cup in October, while the Mariners punched a ticket to the AFC Cup after finishing second in the A-League Men last season.

Typically slot three for the AFC Cup is determined by either the Isuzu UTE A-League premiers for the 2021-22 or 2022-23 season. Or if it is the same premiers in both season – like City this time around – then the team that places second in the league earns a spot.

Guide to this year’s AFC Champions League

This will be City’s second Champions League campaign after featuring in the group stage of the 2022 edition, which was played at centralised venues due to COVID-19.

City agonisingly missed out on progressing to the knockouts on goal difference in Thailand.

This time around, Rado Vidosic’s side will be able to play fixtures home and away.

There is potential for a showdown with Kevin Muscat’s Japanese champions Yokohama F.Marinos, who are in Pot 1, or defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds after the J1 League powerhouse won their play-off.

And there is greater interest in this season’s Champions League, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr – who also boast Sadio Mane and Marcelo Brozovic – qualifying for the first time in three years and in the midst of the influx of superstars moving to Saudi Arabia.

Al Hilal, who have won a record four Champions League titles, have Neymar, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Ruben Neves, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Yassine Bounou and Malcom in their squad, while reigning Saudi champions and two-time Champions League winners Al-Ittihad are able to call upon Karim Benzema, Fabinho and N’Golo Kante.

So what does that mean for A-Leagues teams? Unfortunately for Australian fans, teams from the West and East Zones are kept apart until the final, like when Western Sydney Wanderers stunned Al-Hilal in the 2014 decider.

For this season, the Champions League will be divided into 10 groups of four, the draw will feature teams from the West Zone drawn into Groups A to E while the contestants in the East Zone will find their places in Groups F to J.

The 10 group winners along with the three best runners-up of each Zone will book their places in the knockout stages, which will run from February to April before the two-legged Champions League final on May 11 and 18, 2024.

West Zone

Pot 1: Al Ittihad (KSA), Persepolis FC (IRN), Al Sadd SC (QAT), Pakhtakor (UZB), Al Hilal SFC (KSA)

Pot 2: Sepahan SC (IRN), Al Duhail SC (QAT), FC Nasaf (UZB), Al Fayha FC (KSA), Nassaji Mazandaran FC (IRN)

Pot 3: Al Faisaly (JOR), FC Istiklol (TJK), Air Force Club (IRQ), Ahal FC (TKM), Mumbai City FC (IND)

Pot 4: Al Ain FC (UAE), Al Nassr (KSA), Sharjah FC (UAE), AGMK FC (UZB), Navbahor (UZB)

East Zone

Pot 1: Ulsan Hyundai FC (KOR), Yokohama F. Marinos (JPN), Wuhan Three Towns FC (CHN), Buriram United (THA), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (KOR)

Pot 2: Ventforet Kofu (JPN), Shandong Taishan FC (CHN), Bangkok United (THA), Pohang Steelers (KOR), Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)

Pot 3: Hanoi FC (VIE), Kaya FC-Iloilo (PHI), Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS), Melbourne City FC (AUS), Lion City Sailors (SGP)

Pot 4: Kitchee SC (HKG), Incheon United FC (KOR), Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN), Zhejiang FC (CHN), BG Pathum United (THA)

Guide to this year’s AFC Cup

For the first time in the history of the AFC Cup, Australians clubs are involved.

The Mariners and Macarthur are flying the flag in this season’s competition – the 19th edition of the tournament.

It will feature 36 clubs from the five AFC Zones across nine groups, running between September 2023 and May 2024.

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Nick Montgomery’s Central Coast are back in Asian club competition for the first time since losing an AFC Champions League play-off against Guangzhou R&F in 2015. It is the first time they’re in the group stages of a competition since 2014.

AFC football is coming to Campbelltown, with Macarthur to have their first taste of Asian continental football thanks to hoisting the Australia Cup trophy aloft last year.

Oman’s Al-Seeb were the titleholders after winning in 2022, however, they won’t be defending their crown after failing to advance through their domestic league.

West Zone:

Pot 1 – Al Wehdat (JOR), Al Zawraa (IRQ), Al Ahed FC (LBN) 

Pot 2 – Kuwait SC (KUW), Al Riffa (BHR), Al Futuwa (SYR)

Pot 3 – Jabal Al Mukaber Club (PLE), Al Kahrbaa SC (IRQ), Nejmeh SC (LBN)

Pot 4 – Al Arabi (KUW), Al Nahda (OMA), Al Ittihad Al-Ahli of Aleppo (SYR)

South Zone (no draw required):

Participating Clubs: Odisha FC (IND), Bashundhara Kings (BAN), Maziya Sports & Recreation Club (MDV), Mohun Bagan Super Giant (IND)

Central Zone (no draw required)

Participating Clubs: FC Ravshan (TJK), Altyn Asyr FC (TKM), FC Abdysh-Ata (KGZ), FC Merw (TKM)


Pot 1 – Haiphong FC/Hoang Anh Gia Lai (VIE), Dynamic Herb Cebu FC (PHI), Terengganu FC (MAS)

Pot 2 – Macarthur FC (AUS), Hougang United (SGP), Bali United (IDN)

Pot 3 – Shan United FC (MYA), Stallion Laguna FC (PHI), Sabah FC (MAS)

Pot 4 – Central Coast Mariners (AUS), Winner of PO1: Tampines Rovers FC (SGP)/Phnom Penh Crown FC (CAM), Winner of PO2: PSM Makassar (IDN)/Yangon United (MYA)

East Zone (no draw required):

Participating Clubs: CPK (MAC), Tainan City FC (TPE), FC Ulaanbaatar (MNG), Monte Carlo (MAC)/Taichung Futuro FC (TPE)