AFC Expands Champions League
The AFC will draw the group stages for its expanded Champions League and AFC Cup competitions next week (January 27) in Kuala Lumpur at AFC headquarters.
The draw, to be held virtually, will see the Asian governing body grow its Champions League Group Stage from 32 to 40 clubs via two extra groups of four – one each in the East and West regions.
The second tier AFC Cup will increase to 39 clubs from 36 in the last edition in 2019 (2020 was cancelled due to covid), with a newly-introduced group for the Central Zone.
The expansion of the Champions League opens up the opportunity for teams from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Jordan and Iraq to go deeper into the competition with automatic group qualification slots.
Among the clubs making their Group Stage debut in the AFC Champions League are Jordanian Pro League champions Al Wehdat, India’s FC Goa and two-time AFC Cup runners-up FC Istiklol from Tajikistan from the West Region as well as United City FC from the Philippines, Tampines Rovers from Singapore and Vietnam’s Viettel FC from the East Region.
The 2020 edition of the AFC Champions League was completed using Qatar as a centralised venue for both East and West groups at the end of last year. The 2021 draw will pick the groups but not the venues as, depending on the ferocity and spread of the pandemic, groups may again be required to be centralised.
Ulsan Hyundai won the 2020 edition and return to Qatar as the AFC’s representative in the first of two Club World Cups this year. Their first match is against Concacaf champions Tigres UANL on February 4. The AFC will have to qualify their 2021 Champions League winner in time for the second Club World Cup in Qatar in December that is also being used as another test event for the 2022 World Cup.
The AFC Cup has been given an extra boost this year with this season’s winners guaranteed an opportunity to qualify for the preliminary stage of the 2022 AFC Champions League.