Indian football clubs are all set to get a direct entry into the AFC Champions League from the next season (2021) onwards with the Asian football’s top-tier club competition’s format expanding.

According to a report by The Times of India, the table-topper of Indian Super League’s group stage will get a direct entry in the league while the I-League champion will head directly in the AFC Cup group stage.

This will be the first time that India has a direct entry since the continental club competition started in 2002. Earlier, Indian clubs were drawn in the AFC Champions League playoffs but that will no longer be the case as India has been allotted a direct slot after the format expanded from 32 to 40 teams from 2021.

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.

“We now have a direct spot in the AFC Champions League [group stage] which will be awarded to ISL League winner. The I-League champion will head directly in the AFC Cup group stage, while we have another [AFC Cup] spot which is most likely to be awarded to the ISL League runner up,” All India Football Federation general secretary Kushal Das was quoted as saying by The Times of India.

Earlier, six member associations each from west and east zones got a total of 12 slots to the AFC Champions League’s group stages. But AFC’s Competition’s Committee proposed to increase that number to ten member associations per zone to provide exposure to high-quality competition to more clubs across Asia.