Indian Super League’s winners could get a direct entry into the AFC Champions League group stage from the 2021 season after AFC’s Competition’s Committee recommended to increase the number of participating teams in Asia’s premier club competition to 40 from the existing 32 in a meeting in Tokyo on Saturday.
A proposal that is yet to be approved by the AFC Executive Committee could see India get a total of three AFC slots: one in the Champions League group stages and two in the AFC Cup.
India currently have two AFC quotas with the ISL winners earning a place in the preliminary round of the AFC Champions League and the I-League champions going through to the group stages of the AFC Cup.
However, Scroll.in understands that it could change if India manage to be among the top-ten ranked member associations in the west zone of the AFC Club Competitions Rankings by the end of 2020 season.
Currently, six member associations each from west and east zones get a total of 12 slots to the AFC Champions League’s group stages. But AFC’s Competition’s Committee has proposed to increase that number to ten member associations per zone to provide exposure to high-quality competition to more clubs across Asia.
India, who currently occupy the eighth spot in the west zone, are on course to have one of their clubs secure direct qualification to the group stages of the Champions League, but will have to maintain the aforementioned ranking till the end of next season.
One of the clubs reserving a berth the continent’s showpiece event depends on the performance of Indian clubs in AFC club competitions. I-League champions Chennai City FC will enter the AFC Champions League preliminary round while Bengaluru FC will enter the group stages of the AFC Cup in the upcoming continental competitions as India’s representatives.
Ninety per cent of the points that determine India’s rank will be awarded depending on the performance of these clubs in the upcoming season. The remaining 10 per cent will be awarded based on India’s Fifa ranking in 2020.
The distribution of the slots will be as per the current status quo: ISL winners quality for the group stages of AFC Champions League while I-League winners will get the AFC Cup group stage slot. The destination of the third slot is a decision the All India Football Federation will have to zero in on.
However, if India fail to be among the top ten ranked nations in the west zone, then the ISL winners will get a place in the Champions League preliminary round, as is the case right now.
However, failure to get a direct entry into the AFC Champions League for an Indian club could see the nation lose a spot in the AFC Cup; all eliminated teams from the preliminary rounds are parachuted into the second-tier competition.
At a time, there can only be two Indian clubs in the group stages of the AFC Cup, and hence, India could be restricted to only two Asian slots if they fail to maintain their top-ten rank in AFC Club Competitions ranking of the west zone, and risk missing out on a Champions League spot.
India are currently less than a point ahead of Tajikistan in the rankings and sit three clear of Turkmenistan, who currently occupy the tenth spot in the west zone.
Apart from increasing the number of participating teams and member associations in the AFC’s club competitions, the apex football body in Asia also announced that the winner of the Champions League will get a direct entry into next season’s group stages. The AFC Cup champions, meanwhile, will be awarded a playoff spot to get into next season’s Champions League.
The developments in the meeting in Tokyo are therefore highly significant for Indian football. It increases the stakes for Indian clubs to be in the ISL, which is the top tier of Indian football as things stand. The prize for winning the ISL too, could be bigger than ever.