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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

ISL league toppers may get Asian Champions League 2021 qualifiers slot

The winner-takes-all rule of the Indian Super League (ISL) could change in season 6, which is likely to start soon after India’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh at home on October 15.

football Updated: Jul 19, 2019 23:51 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
         

The winner-takes-all rule of the Indian Super League (ISL) could change in season 6, which is likely to start soon after India’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh at home on October 15. It has been proposed that the team which tops the home-and-away league phase will represent India in the 2021 Asian Champions League qualifiers. Unless they are also first in the league standings of the 10-team competition, ISL6 winners will only get the ~8 crore prize purse. The league has communicated this to the All India Football Federation (AIFF). The rules will be amended once AIFF gives its okay.

The change has been proposed to remove a potential hurdle in ISL being accepted by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as India’s highest league. The AIFF, after its executive committee meeting in New Delhi on July 9, said it would recommend that ISL be made India’s top league. That status was hitherto the I-League’s.

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Since ISL follows a league-cum-knockout format, the amendment has been proposed to ensure AFC does not question how winners of a final are eligible for a slot allotted to the champions of the country’s top league.

Steve Coppell, the former England international and Manchester United midfielder, had questioned the ISL format which gave nothing to the team finishing first after the league phase.

“I fail to see why the winner of league stage doesn’t win something. It’s one hell of an achievement. It emphasises that week in, week out you were the best. There needs to be real value attached to that rather than the knockout-winners-take-all mentality,” Coppell had told this paper before taking charge of Jamshedpur FC in 2017-18.

Coppell also coached Kerala Blasters in 2016-17, taking them to the final, and ATK last term.

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In 2017-18, Bengaluru FC topped the league standings by eight points but lost the final 2-3 to Chennaiyin FC. That gave Chennaiyin FC the right to represent India in Asia in 2019.

Since ISL got an automatic berth in the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier competition, AFC didn’t have a problem with the format. ISL was then considered a cup competition with I-League India’s top league.

While next year ISL champions Bengaluru FC will get an AFC Cup berth and I-League winners Chennai City play the Champions League qualifiers, it could change from 2021.

The change will also give teams an incentive to top the league. Over the past five seasons, the only advantage the league toppers got was playing the second-leg of the semi-final at home.

First Published: Jul 19, 2019 23:48 IST

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