AFC adds clubs in Champions League and focuses on growing women’s comps

October 29 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has committed to expanding the number of teams in its blue riband club competition, the AFC Champions League, to 40 clubs from 2021.

The regional governing body will also be increasing the number of nations in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup from eight to 12 in 2022 and is launching a new regional women’s club competition.

The AFC Champions League is currently played split between East and West zones with the winners of each zone meeting in a two-legged final. There will be four new clubs spots available in each zone that will widen the base of opportunity for clubs outside the AFC’s top six nations. There will be no change in the number of qualification slots available to them.

This season’s AFC Champions League has now reached the finals stage. J-League side Urawa Red Diamonds secured their final place last week with a 1-0 victory over Guangzhou Evergrande to progress 3-0 on aggregate.

In the West zone Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal were beaten 4-2 in the second leg of their semi-final against Qatar’s Al Sadd but it was not enough for the Qataris who had lost their home leg 4-1. It will be Al Hilal’s third final appearance in six years.

Al Hilal wil host Urawa in the first leg of the final on November 9, with the return leg in Japan on November 24. The winners will qualify for the Club World Cup in Qatar in December.

Focussing on women’s expansion

The venue for the expanded 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup has yet to be decided. Currently the AFC has hosting proposals from Chinese Taipei, India and Uzbekistan for the championship that had eight teams in the last edition in Jordan last year but which will have 12 teams in 2022.

The AFC is also taking first steps with a women’s club competition having agreed a pilot edition that will see the champion clubs from four member associations – Australia, China PR, Japan and Korea Republic – play on a round-robin basis November 26 to 30.

At an executive committee meeting chaired by Saoud Al Mohannadi in Da Nang Vietnam, Al Mohannadi delivered a message from AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa saying: “We have always looked to grow the women’s game in Asia with new initiatives and that has been rewarded by world champions in FIFA competitions at every level.

“We were the first Confederation to have at least five women ExCo Members and one of the few to appoint a woman referee to men’s competitions in the AFC Cup.

“And one of our Executive Members, Kanya Keomany, will be the first female match commissioner to be appointed for a men’s club competition final – the AFC Cup final at the start of next month.

“The start of the new commercial cycle, with our exclusive partners, DDMC Fortis, is the perfect time to launch this new era in Asian football. It will be an era of excellence and inclusiveness.”

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