The route to glory at the AFC Cup 2023-24 will be laid out in the official draw for the Group Stage on Thursday, August 24, 2023, at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at 2 pm.
The 19th edition of the AFC Cup – the first to adhere to an autumn-spring schedule – will feature 36 clubs from the five AFC Zones across nine groups and is set to take place between September 2023 and May 2024.
Joint-record three-time champions Kuwait SC – the first Kuwaiti club to ever win an Asian title – have the opportunity to add to their triumphs from 2009, 2012 and 2013; Lebanon’s first-ever Asian club champion, Al Ahed FC, triumphed in 2019 and could be joined in the draw by 2010 winner Al Ittihad Al-Ahli of Aleppo of Syria if the latter prevails in their Playoff (West). Two previous finalists – Nejmeh SC of Lebanon (2005) and Altyn Asyr FC of Turkmenistan (2018) – are in the hunt to go one better.
This edition will feature 13 debutants if Al Khaldiya SC of Bahrain navigate their Playoff (West) tie successfully – the most since the 2010 edition, which had 14. Australian clubs will be involved for the first time in the history of the AFC Cup, represented by the duo of Macarthur FC and Central Coast Mariners.
Following the slot allocations that were determined in June, 29 clubs earned direct qualification to the Group Stage based on the AFC Club Competitions Ranking 2021. They will be joined by seven clubs from the Preliminary and Playoff Stages, which will conclude on August 23.
The 36 participating clubs will be drawn into nine groups of four according to their respective Zones, as below:
Groups A, B, C: West Zone
Group D: South Zone
Groups E: Central Zone
Groups F, G, H: ASEAN Zone
Group I: East Zone
For groups in the West and ASEAN Zones, clubs from the same Member Association (MA) will not be drawn into the same group due to the Country Protection principle. The clubs involved in these two Zones will also be seeded into four pots for the draw in accordance with the AFC Club Competitions Ranking and the seeding within their MA; no draw is necessary for the groups in the other three Zones, where the clubs will be allocated in accordance with the AFC Club Competitions Ranking of their MA.
The full list of pots is as follows:
Club Pots for AFC Cup 2023-24 Group Stage draw
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), Winner of PO1: Al Khaldiya SC (BHR)/Al Nahda (OMA), Winner of PO2: Al Ittihad Al-Ahli of Aleppo (SYR)/Shabab Al Khalil (PLE)
South Zone (no draw required):
Participating Clubs: Odisha FC (IND), Bashundhara Kings (BAN), Maziya Sports & Recreation Club (MDV), Winner of PO: Mohun Bagan Super Giant (IND)/Abahani Limited Dhaka (BAN)
Central Zone (no draw required):
Participating Clubs: FC Ravshan (TJK), Altyn Asyr FC (TKM), FC Abdysh-Ata (KGZ), Winner of PO: FC Khujand (TJK)/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)
The three group winners and best runners-up from each of the West and ASEAN Zones will proceed to their respective Zonal Semi-finals, with the winners facing each other in their corresponding Zonal Final.
The winner in the ASEAN Zone moves on to the Inter-zone Semi-finals, where they are joined by the winners of Groups D, E and I; a Knockout Stage draw will be conducted to determine the two ties for this stage. The two victors then play each other in the Inter-zone Final to earn the right to face the winner of the West Zonal Final in the AFC Cup 2023-24 Final on May 5, 2024.