|KUALA LUMPUR: In order to give opportunity for more Member Associations to be part of Asia’s flagship competition, the AFC Executive Committee on Wednesday decided to approve a proposal to increase the number of teams in the AFC Asian Cup from 16 to 24 from the 2019 edition.
The committee, which met under the chairmanship of AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, also decided to remove AFC Challenge Cup from the list of AFC competitions. The 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, to be played in Maldives from May 19 to 30, will be the last edition of this competition.
At the outset, Shaikh Salman congratulated Japan for winning the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup saying it’s a big achievement and once again proves our dominance in women’s football.
He also wished Japan, Iran, Korea Republic and Australia the very best for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil apart from hoping for success for the forthcoming AFC Women’s Asian Cup, AFC Challenge Cup and AFC Futsal Championship.
The committee also ratified the AFC Competitions Committee’s proposal to merge the preliminary qualification rounds for FIFA World Cup qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup.
Depending on the number of entries, the Member Associations will be divided into eight groups in the preliminary stage. The eight group winners and four second best teams among all the eight groups will qualify for the FIFA World Cup final round of qualifiers and also the AFC Asian Cup finals. Presently, only ten teams battle it out in the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The next best 24 teams from the preliminary qualification round (24 teams) will compete for the remaining slots in the AFC Asian Cup finals in six groups of four teams each. The final round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers will be separated.
The committee also approved the proposal to rank the Member Associations based on their national teams and clubs’ performance over last four years in AFC competitions. Thirty per cent of points will be allocated for national teams’ performances while seventy per cent for the clubs’ showings.
Upon confirmation of the rankings, the MAs ranked 1 to 24 will be eligible to play in the AFC Champions League. Apart from being in the top 24, the MAs should fulfill club licensing criteria, have integrity programmes within the MA, organisation of professional league and its governance, facilities as required in the regulations and sound supporting system for logistical matters in order to be eligible to receive a direct slot(s).
The MAs ranked 25 to 32 will be eligible to participate in AFC Cup group stage while MAs ranked 33 to 47 will be provided with an opportunity to play in AFC Cup playoff stage.
The proposal to increase rest days from one to two in the qualifiers and finals of the AFC U-16, U-19 and U-22 championships was also approved but this will be implemented from 2017 onwards.
The AFC Executive Committee also approved recommendations from AFC’s standing committees, the new AFC Champions League and AFC Cup formats and the proposed amendments to the AFC Statutes, which will be presented to the AFC Extraordinary Congress in Sao Paulo on June 9 for approval.