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Next I-League football champions could benefit from AFC Cup proposals

If the new AFC proposals go through, India’s clubs in 2018 AFC Cup, which will be chosen from the winners of the I-League and Federation Cup in 2016-17, will not meet a team from the West zone before the final

football Updated: Nov 28, 2016 13:31 IST
Asian Football Confederation,AFC Cup,I-League
East Bengal, former I-League champions, will nourish their AFC Cup dreams again(Hindustan Times)

Should proposals to change the format of the AFC from 2018 be passed by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the next I-League champions would benefit.

Among the proposals made by the AFC’s Competitions Committee in Al Ain, UAE, last week, is one that calls for the AFC Cup from 2018 to be played in five zones - ASEAN, Central, South, East and West.

The winners of the West zone will qualify for the final and will meet the winners of the inter-zone play-off among the other four zones. The final too would be played alternately at venues in the West and East zones, according to the proposal.

This means India’s clubs in 2018 AFC Cup, which will be chosen from the winners of the I-League and Federation Cup in 2016-17, will not meet a team from the West zone before the final. Given that teams from the West have won 11 of the 13 editions with 10 finals having both teams from that zone, this proposal will benefit clubs from other countries.

The AFC Cup now is split into two zones: West and East with Indian clubs slotted in East zone. However, in the knockout rounds teams from West and East could meet as in 2013 when East Bengal played Al-Kuwait, the competition’s most successful team with three titles and one runners-up berth, in the semi-finals. In 2008, when Dempo became the first Indian club to qualify for the AFC Cup semi-finals, they met Lebanon’s Safa.

The 2014 AFC Cup quarter-finals had a team from Vietnam playing Iraq’s Erbil and Malaysia’s Persipura Jayapura taking on Al-Kuwait. The semi-finals too were West-East affairs. It was the same in the semi-finals of the 2015 AFC Cup which was won by Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia, the only team from East to do so.

Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri was instrumental in his team’s historic entry in the AFC Cup final this year (Media JSW)

This year, Bengaluru FC beat them in the semi-final. Having become the first Indian team to make the final, Bengaluru FC lost 0-1 to Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in Doha on November 5.

New rankings system proposed

A proposal to change the ranking system of countries in the AFC Cup too could benefit India should it be approved and implemented from 2021 with the 2019 and 2020 editions being used to complete the transition.

So far, in calculating a country’s rank 70 per cent weight was given to performance of its clubs in AFC competitions and 30 per cent to the national team’s results.

The new proposal calls for 100 per cent weight on clubs’ show. In the transition years of 2019 and 2020, 10 per cent of a country’s rank will be determined by how the national team fares.

India are 137 in the latest Fifa rankings, its highest since 2009. Coupled with Bengaluru FC finishing runners-up this term, this means India would get a lot of ranking points going into the 2017 edition.

But should this proposal be adopted, the national team’s performance wouldn’t anymore determine the groups Indian clubs are put into. Instead, it would be the performance of its clubs in the AFC Cup where Indian teams have made the knockout rounds every year from 2008 barring once.

These recommendations would be discussed by the AFC’s executive committee in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, according to a media release on its website.

First Published: Nov 28, 2016 13:20 IST