Kuala Lumpur: The 2017 edition of the AFC Champions League is beginning to loom large on the calendars of football fans throughout the continent, with the first of the new season’s qualifiers just over two weeks away.
After watching Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors lift the trophy last year, Philippines side Global FC and Tampines Rovers from Singapore are scheduled to kick things off this time around when the two teams meet in what is sure to be an intriguing Preliminary Stage 1 encounter on January 24.
Hot on the heels of the ASEAN showdown, the second round of Preliminary Stage qualifiers begins a day later with Kitchee’s hosting of Hanoi FC (formerly Hanoi T&T) at the Mong Kok Stadium in Hong Kong.
The Preliminary Stage 2 matches will then conclude on January 31 when a further nine teams from the West and East Zones – including Australia’s Brisbane Roar and 2015 AFC Cup winners Johor Darul Ta’zim - enter the fray along with the winners of the Global versus Tampines clash.
The winners of the six Preliminary Stage 2 games will then progress to the Play-offs, the final hurdle before the eagerly anticipated Group Stage of Asia’s premier club competition.
Opening Fixture: Global FC v Tampines Rovers
Global FC qualified for the Preliminary Stage after claiming their third United Football League title in five seasons in 2016. They competed in the AFC Cup in 2015 but failed to get past the Group Stage.
Tampines Rovers earned the right to take on Global after finishing runners-up to Albirex Niigata (S) in the S-League in 2016. They were eliminated in the AFC Champions League Play-offs in 2014 and 2016 but reached the AFC Cup quarter-finals last year.
Full 2017 AFC Champions League Preliminary Stage & Play-off Fixtures
EAST Preliminary Stage 1 (January 24, 2017) PS 1.1 - Hanoi T&T (VIE) - Bye PS 1.2 - Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) - Bye PS 1.3 - Yadanarbon FC (MYA) - Bye PS 1.4 - Global FC (PHI) v Tampines Rovers FC (SIN)
Preliminary Stage 2 (January 31, 2017) PS 2.1 - Kitchee (HKG) v Hanoi FC (VIE) PS 2.2 - Bangkok United (THA) v Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) PS 2.3 - Sukhothai FC (THA) v Yadanarbon FC (MYA) PS 2.4 - Brisbane Roar (AUS) v Winner PS 1.4
WEST Preliminary Stage 2 (January 31, 2017) PS 2.1 - Al Wehdat (JOR) v JSW Bengaluru FC (IND) PS 2.2 - FC Nasaf (UZB) v Al Hidd Club (BHR) PS 2.3 - Al Sadd SC (QAT) v Bye PS 2.4 - FC Bunyodkor (UZB) v Bye
Play-off Stage (February 7, 2017) Al Wahda (UAE) v Winner PS 2.1 Al Fateh FC (KSA) v Winner PS 2.2 Esteghlal FC (IRN) v Al Sadd SC (QAT) El Jaish SC (QAT) v FC Bunyodkor (UZB)
Play-off Stage (February 7, 2017) Jeju United FC (KOR) v Winner PS 2.1 Gamba Osaka (JAP) v Winner PS 2.2 Shanghai SIPG FC (CHN) v Winner PS 2.3 Shanghai Shenhua FC (CHN) v Winner PS 2.4