|By MICHAEL HUGUENIN
Reigning A-League premiers Central Coast Mariners have been handed a relatively easy draw for the 2013 AFC Champions League.
The Mariners have been drawn in Group H alongside Suwon Bluewings and Guizhou Renhe, the lowest-ranked clubs from South Korea and China respectively, as well as the winner of Japan's Emperor's Cup, which has yet to be decided.
The group stage of the 2013 ACL will begin on February 26 and will clash with the end of the A-League season but Central Coast coach Graham Arnold is confident his side can handle both competitions having been through the same situation last year.
"The experience of playing in the 2012 AFC Champions League has us better equipped to deal with the demands of the tournament next year," Arnold said after Thursday's draw.
"All the teams in the AFC Champions League are from tough competitions, and it will be a great test for our players to see if we can emerge from Group H.
"Clubs in China, Korea and Japan have big budgets and big squads but having dealt with the dual demands of the A-League finals series and the AFC Champions League last year, we believe we can perform strongly in Asia."
Having finished last season's A-League on top of the ladder, Central Coast won the premiership, which earned them automatic qualification to the ACL.
Last season's champions, Brisbane Roar, the winners of the A-League grand final, are Australia's other potential representative but will need to overcome Thailand's Buriram United to earn a spot in the group stage.
If Brisbane can win the home playoff they will play in Group E against K-League champions FC Seoul, China's Jiangsu Sainty and Vegalta Sendai of Japan.
But Buriram should provide a tough test for the Roar as the Thai Premier League club knocked off Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 in China in this year's ACL group stage, while also winning 3-2 at home against the J.League's Kashiwa Reysol.