Asian escapade set out for Jets

The Newcastle Jets have been drawn with Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i, Beijing Guoan, and Nagoya Grampus, in Group E of the AFC Champions League 2009 after the official draw took place in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, this evening.

The Newcastle Jets have been drawn with Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i, Beijing Guoan, and Nagoya Grampus, in Group E of the AFC Champions League 2009 after the official draw took place in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, this evening. The Jets avoided many of the powerhouse clubs in the East Asia side of the draw, such as last year-s winners Gamba Osaka, and Korean giants Suwon Samsung Bluewings, in what was generally considered a favourable draw for last season-s Hyundai A-League champions.

Newcastle will take on all three sides twice during the group stage of the competition, once at home and once away. The team from the Hunter region will play their first game on Wednesday, 11 March in a history-making occasion for the club.

The Jets defeated fellow AFC Champions League debutants from Australia, the Central Coast Mariners - who were drawn in Group H alongside Tianjin Teda, Kawasaki Frontale, and Pohang Steelers - in the 2008 Hyundai A-League Grand Final to secure their spot in Asia-s premier club competition. Gary van Egmond-s men will no doubt be buoyed by the inclusion of Olyroo skipper Mark Milligan for the prestigious tournament, and Hyundai A-League 2007/08 Johnny Warren Medallist and Golden Boot winner Joel Griffiths will lead the team from the front, giving the Jets an athletic outlet and plenty of firepower in attack.

Undoubtedly the team from the city with the smallest population in the group, the Jets will be looking to utilise the strong Novocastrian spirit and work ethic that led the team to last season-s title in order to progress past their tricky Group E opponents.

Nagoya Grampus qualified for the competition after finishing third in the J-League in 2008, behind Kawasaki Frontale and champions Kashima Antlers. They are one of only six clubs to have competed in every season of Japan-s top-flight domestic league since its inception in 1993, but will compete in their first AFC Champions League campaign in 2009. Once coached by renowned Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger, the most notable players in the current squad include goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki and Keiji Tamada, both of whom formed part of Japan-s 2006 FIFA World Cup squad.

Beijing Guoan finished the 2008 Chinese Super League competition also in third place, behind powerhouse clubs Shandong Luneng and Shanghai Shenhua. The club from the nation-s capital has never won the domestic championship but has lifted the Chinese FA Cup three times and made their debut in the AFC Champions League last year. Guoan occasionally play out of the eye-catching “birds nest” Stadium, built for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and rely on a host of Chinese international players led by Yang Pu, Tao Wei and Shang Yi.

Ulsang Hyundai Horang-i were yet another club to claim third spot in their domestic league, subsequently securing an AFC Champions League 2009 place. The “Tigers” have been crowned champions of Korea twice in recent history, firstly in 1996 and again in 2005, making them one of the more fancied sides in the group. Brilliant Brazilian striker Luizinho will be one to watch for the experienced Korean side and will pose a substantial threat to the other clubs in Group E.

Newcastle Jets- Chief Executive Officer, John Tsatsimas, this evening explained the club-s delight in entering the esteemed competition.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for the club as we enter our debut AFC Champions League tournament, and to be drawn in a group with the likes of Nagoya Grampus, Ulsan Hyundai, and Beijing Guoan will make the experience a memorable one.”

“No doubt this will be a stern test for our club and will prove an extensive exercise for us, but it is also a time of opportunity and a chance to showcase Newcastle throughout Asia. There are limitless possibilities for this great city during our time in the Champions League, and that responsibility is something that we are certainly taking extremely seriously.”

“This is a region with a proud football heritage and we are proud to have a chance to write yet another historic chapter in that book.”

“We have certainly been drawn in a testing group, but then this level of competition is exactly what Asia brings, so we-ll be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead,” Mr. Tsatsimas said.

Groups for AFC Champions League 2009 West Asia: Group A: Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia), Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan), Al Ahli (United Arab Emirates), Saba Battery (Iran) Group B: Persepolis (Iran), Al Shabab (Saudi Arabia), Al Gharafa (Qatar), West Asian Playoff Winner Group C: Al Jazira (United Arab Emirates), Esteghlal (Iran), Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia), Umm Salal (Qatar) Group D: Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan), Al Shabab (United Arab Emirates), Sepahan (Iran), Al Ettifaq (Saudi Arabia)

East Asia: Group E: Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i (Korea Republic), Newcastle Jets (Australia), Beijing Guoan (China), Nagoya Grampus (Japan) Group F: Gamba Osaka (Japan), FC Seoul (Korea Republic), Sriwijaya (Indonesia), Shandong Luneng (China) Group G: Shanghai Shenhua (China), Kashima Antlers (Japan), Suwon Samsung Bluewings (Korea Republic), East Asian Playoff Winner Group H: Central Coast Mariners (Australia), Tianjin Teda (China), Kawasaki Frontale (Japan), Pohang Steelers (Korea Republic)

AFC Champions League 2009 - Group E Club Details:

Club name: Ulsang Hyundai Horang-i Location: Ulsan, Yeongnam, South Korea (Population: 1,087,958) Chairman: Yu Kwan-Hong Coach: Kim Ho-Gon Stadium: Munsu Cup Stadium (Capacity: 44,466) Time zone: GMT + 9 hours

Club name: Newcastle United Jets Football Club Location: Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia (Population: 141,753) Chairman: Con Constantine Coach: Gary van Egmond Stadium: EnergyAustralia Stadium, Newcastle (Capacity: 26,000) Time zone: GMT + 10 hours

Club name: Beijing Guoan Football Club Location: Beijing, China (Population: 17,430,000) Chairman: Li Shilin Coach: Lee Jang-Soo Stadium: Beijing Fengtai Stadium, Beijing (Capacity: 33,000) Time zone: GMT + 8 hours

Club name: Nagoya Grampus Location: Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (Population: 2,236,000) Chairman: Toyo Kato Coach: Dragan Stojkovic Stadium: Mizuho Athletic Stadium, Nagoya (Capacity: 27,000) & Toyota Soccer Stadium, Toyota city (Capacity: 45,000) Time Zone: GMT + 9 hours

Tickets for Jets home games for the club-s first foray into Asia-s elite club competition will become available through www.proticket.com.au, or by calling (02) 4915 2345 in the coming weeks.