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By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Coach Steve Corica admitted he was powerless to stop his Sydney FC team quitting this year's Asian Champions League as the line-up for the continental competition was reconfigured on Sunday after Australian teams pulled out this week.
Sydney FC, Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar were due to feature in the tournament when it resumes in Thailand and Uzbekistan later this month, but their decision to withdraw was announced by the Asian Football Confederation on Friday.
The AFC said they had been informed of the move by Football Australia, the country's governing body, and no reason has been made public, although tight quarantine regulations in Australia have restricted international travel in and out of the country.
As a result of the withdrawal, the A-League's finals series will now be played at the same time as the Asian Champions League group phase and Corica stressed he was focused on his side's semi-final next week.
"It's an important time of year for us," he said after Saturday's 2-0 win over Brisbane.
"We've worked very hard to get to this point in the season and to work on the semi-finals coming up in a couple of weeks.
"I just leave (the Asian Champions League decision) to higher authorities than myself.
"Obviously we want to play in the Champions League, it's what we finish first or second for, to be involved in a good competition like that, but it doesn't look like it's going to work out this year for us."
The withdrawal of Sydney FC means Thai FA Cup winners Chiangrai United will replace Corica's side in Group H with South Korea's Daegu FC, who had been scheduled to play off against the club from Thailand, entering Group I.
Brisbane, meanwhile, had been due to meet Kaya-Iloilo in the preliminary rounds, but the decision to pull the team out means the side from the Philippines will now face Chinese Super League club Shanghai Port in a playoff for a berth in Group F.
Japan's Cerezo Osaka will now go into Group J after their playoff with Melbourne City was cancelled, and they will meet two-time champions Guangzhou FC as well as Hong Kong's Kitchee and Port FC from Thailand.
Groups F, G and J of the competition will take place in Thailand from June 22 to July 11 while Groups H and I will be held in Uzbekistan from June 25 to July 11.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Schmollinger)