India is likely to benefit from a major revamp of the continent’s premier football tournaments proposed by the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) competitions committee. The committee, which met on the sidelines of the AFC Under-22 Championship in Oman on Sunday, has decided to simplify qualification rules for the national team and club competitions and give lower-ranked countries an opportunity to play more matches against some of the top nations, AIFF vice president Subrata Dutta said.
The proposals, set to be ratified at next meeting of the executive committee, include the Asian Cup, which will have 24 teams instead of 16 after the 2015 edition.
The Challenge Cup, a tournament that gave ‘Tier 2’ nations a backdoor entry into the Asian Cup, will be scrapped after this year’s edition in the Maldives.
India has not managed to qualify for the Asian Cup on merit for close to 30 years. They made the cut for the 2011 edition in Doha after winning the Challenge Cup at home. However, the Bob Houghton-coached side finished at the bottom of the group that included Australia, South Korea and Bahrain.
Eight more berths
India also failed to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia after bowing out in the qualifying round as well as the Challenge Cup. With eight additional spots added for the 2019 edition, the team’s chances to qualify have automatically increased, Dutta said. “It will surely be beneficial. Making the cut with just 16 teams in the fray was always going to be tough for us. However, with eight more spots added, it will improve our chances of qualifying for the tournament,” Dutta said.
Furthermore, the qualification rounds for the World Cup and AFC Asian Cup qualifiers will be merged for the preliminary round. Depending on the number of entries, the member associations will be divided into eight groups after preliminary stages. The eight group winners and four second-best teams will qualify for the World Cup final round of qualifiers and also the Asian Cup finals. Presently, only ten teams battle it out in the final round of World Cup qualifiers.
The second and third-placed 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.
Changes are also being implemented for the club competitions. Champions League eligibility will now include national team performances over the previous four years. Thirty percent of the criteria points will be drawn from national team results with the remaining 70 percent based on clubs’ performances.