KUALA LUMPUR: The cream of the crop in Asia will come together for the maiden campaign of the AFC Champions League Elite which kicks off next month.

The initial cast for the debut 2024/25 season was confirmed by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in accordance with the finalised AFC Club Competitions 2024/25 slot allocations that features 27 teams from across 12 Member Associations (MAs) – six from each of the West and East regions.

This will see five clubs battling it out in the Preliminary Stage from August 6 to 13 for the remaining slots in the League Stage: in the West, Qatar’s Al Gharafa will play the winner of the tie between the representative club from the Islamic Republic of Iran and United Arab Emirates’ Shabab Al Ahli, while in the East, China PR’s Shandong Taishan FC will square off against Thailand’s Bangkok United. The losing teams from the Preliminary Stage will directly enter the AFC Champions League Two™ Group Stage.

The winning teams will join the clubs that have qualified directly for the League Stage and continue their quest to reach the pinnacle of Asia between September 16, 2024 and February 19, 2025.

A pivotal change in the revamped ACL Elite sees the traditional Group Stage make way for the League Stage format, ensuring a robust competition with top quality football across all matches. The 24 clubs will be divided into two leagues of 12 teams across the West and East regions, with each team to play against eight different opponents within its region in the form of four home and four away matches.

The full list of clubs, along with their respective MA rankings and slot allocations, can be found below:

West Rank Member AssociationClubDirectIndirect1Saudi ArabiaAl Hilal SFC -Al Nassr – Al Ahli Saudi FC  –2QatarAl SaddAl GharafaAl Rayyan3 Islamic Republic of Iran Persepolis FCTBCEsteghlal FC4United Arab EmiratesAl Ain FC* Shabab Al Ahli Al Wasl FC5UzbekistanFC Pakhtakor –6IraqTBC –               *AFC Champions League™ 2023/24 holdersEastRankMember AssociationClubDirectIndirect1JapanVissel Kobe-Kawasaki Frontale-Yokohama F. Marinos-2Korea RepublicUlsan HD FCGwangju FC*FC Pohang Steelers3China PRShanghai Port FCShandong Taishan FCShanghai Shenhua FC4ThailandBuriram UnitedBangkok United5AustraliaCentral Coast Mariners-6MalaysiaJohor Darul Ta’zim FC-              *Gwangju will qualify directly for the League StageThe official draw ceremony for the League Stage will be conducted on August 16, 2024, with further details on the Draw Mechanics to be announced in due course.The top eight teams from each League will advance to the double-legged Round of 16, scheduled from March 3 to 12, 2025, which will be followed by a unique centralised Finals. This will see all matches, from the Quarter-finals onwards, being contested at a single host MA, with Saudi Arabia having been confirmed for the 2024/25 and 2025/26 seasons.No regional division will apply during the Finals, which will witness single-legged ties for each of the Quarter-finals (for which a draw will be conducted to determine the pairings), Semi-finals and Final that will take place between April 25 and May 4, 2025. The overview of the ACL Elite 2024/25 schedule can be found below:
Taking place against the backdrop of Asia’s biggest cities, the teams in the groundbreaking ACL Elite embody diverse cultures and over 1 billion football fans are expected to witness the most entertaining spectacle that the Continent has to offer.

All participating clubs will be supported by significant increases in financial distribution, as teams entering the League Stage are guaranteed a minimum of USD 800,000, with additional monies available based on their eventual placings, meaning that the champions will receive at least USD 12 million.