By Paul Nicholson in Hong Kong
December 2 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has agreed qualification criteria for the expanded 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 and the three and a half slots allocated for AFC clubs.
Meeting on the eve of the AFC’s Annual Awards in Hong Kong, the confederation’s executive committee agreed that one slot would be allocated for the host Member Association (China), while the other slots would be filled by the top AFC Champions League teams – one slot for the AFC West Zone Champion, one for the East Zone Champion and the half slot to be contested by the winner of the play-off between the two losing finalists in the two zones.
The AFC’s decision on how its qualification slots will be apportioned will now go before the FIFA Council for approval.
The allocation guarantees a geographical spread of Asian teams from across the region and enhances the competitive importance and opportunity of the AFC Champions League.
It also kills off the ambition of the sub-regional association, the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF), which had targeted Club World Cup qualification for its newly launched club competition.
The AFF said in November that following two meetings with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, its relaunched ASEAN Club championship (ACC) could be a pathway to the expanded Club World Cup in 2021.
That competition will start in 2020 featuring the League or Cup champions from 11 of the regional association’s 12 members – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Australia, a member of the AFF, will not enter a team in the inaugural edition planned for 2020.
Prize money for 12-team competition is set at $500,000 for the winners. Commercial sales are under the control of Seamus O’Brien who was formerly the principal of Word Sports Group which held the commercial rights to all AFC competitions, including the AFC Champions League. O’Brien sold WSG to Lagardere who subsequently lost the AFC representation.
The AFF president Khiev Sameth said at the announcement of the competition: “The prospects of playing in the expanded FIFA Club World Cup is enticing and will translate to among other things greater investment by league and clubs in the region thus contributing to the further growth of the football ecosystem in Southeast Asia.” However, that ambition has been effectively ended with the AFC asserting its primacy in the region.
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