New AFC Cup format to crown champions according to regions
Aimed at improving club football levels, new AFC Cup format muddles ASL situation
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) yesterday launched a new format for the AFC Cup - its second-tier regional competition.
Starting next year, it will see champions crowned across each of Asia's five regions - East, West, Central, South and Asean. The champions will then contest the AFC Cup.
West Asia has historically performed better in the tournament and its champion will proceed directly to the AFC Cup final, while the rest of the regional champions will battle it out for the right to face them.
While the rest of Asia may look forward to seeing their own regional champions crowned, this move by the AFC muddles the situation in Asean, with the proposed Asean Super League (ASL) targeting kick-off in late 2017.
"We hope that (the new AFC Cup format) will inspire clubs to do more and raise their levels," AFC general secretary Windsor John told The New Paper.
"Crowning champions of the different regions such as Asean will motivate clubs, while also preparing them for the higher level of Champions League football.
"The new format will see the tournament played first within the five regions, the reason for doing this is to get more member associations and clubs involved in the tournament.
"Every region will have a champion and prize money to go along with the title of regional champions."
The ASL has similar ambitions of raising the levels of football in Asean and will also look to crown its own Asean champions.
The AFC Cup format will have further knock-on effects and not just for selected clubs, but for the entire continent.
"This system will also see savings in travel costs for clubs who now will not have to travel beyond their region until the latter stages of the tournament, and these savings will be put back into the development of the game," said John.
"As far as off the pitch matters go, we will enforce club licencing with clubs required to reach benchmarks, thus requiring clubs to develop themselves to be in line with the industry's best practices."
When asked about the impact of AFC's new format on the proposed ASL, John declined to comment. But the AFC has already made its stance on the matter clear.
The ASL needs AFC approval before it can launch and John told TNP in an earlier interview that the green light has yet to be given, because the ASL needs to show that it can "organise the competition under the structure of the AFC", and around AFC competition schedules.
And the new AFC Cup format complicates this with the possibility of more matches being played in the lead up to the AFC Cup final.
TNP understands that the Asean region is set to see 12 teams battle it out in three groups of four teams each, with the winners and the best second-placed team earning a spot in the semi-finals.
The AFC had earlier asserted that it has yet to receive the details of the ASL and did not comment on how the ASL would be able to manage the matter of working around the existing calendar.
The draw for the new AFC Cup will be held next Tuesday in Selangor, Malaysia, alongside that for the AFC Champions League.
S.League side Tampines Rovers are slated for a Champions League play-off spot, with Home United in the AFC Cup.
Geylang International have been put on standby to take Singapore's second AFC Cup spot should Tampines make it to the main draw of the Champions League.