Mohamed bin Hammam has presided
over the lastest changes [AFP]
Emerging market India and clubs from the powerful Asian federations are the chief winners and those of Iraq and Qatar among the losers in a proposed reorganisation of the Asian Champions League.

The new 32-team format, up from the 28 in the 2008 group stage, was decided upon by the Asian Football Confederation's Pro League committee.

It is subject to approval at an AFC executive committee meeting in July, and member nations meeting a promised set of benchmarks in various criteria by October.

Each member nation was subject to criteria related to on-field performance, attendance figures, and organisational and governance standards in deciding how many teams from each nation would be in the new ACL format.

The format, set to be in place for at least the next two seasons, was then further subject to the maintenance of a numerically even east-west split of the giant confederation which stretches from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and Australia.

In east Asia, Japan, South Korea and China will have four teams each in the group stages, Australia two, Indonesia one, and one reserved for the winner of a playoff between teams from Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and one of the finalists from this year's second-tier AFC Cup club competition.

In west and central Asia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran will have four places each, one each for Jordan, Kuwait and India and another for the winner of a playoff between teams from Syria, Uzbekistan, Qatar and the other finalist from this year's AFC Cup.

he A-League is one of the leading professional competitions in the AFC"

Ben Buckley, FFA chief executive

Some increases

The proposed new format increases the number of teams from Japan, South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran while Australia was restricted to two teams because the rules say no more than one-third of each nation's top division can be in the new ACL, Australia's A League only has eight teams after holding off on a proposed expansion for 2008-09.

"I am pleased that we were able to demonstrate to the committee that the A-League is one of the leading professional competitions in the AFC, particularly as the competition has only been in place for three seasons,'' Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley said.

India was ranked only 17th of 21 nations considered for entry by the AFC Committee, but the introduction of the I League, which had its first season in 2007-08, and the expectation of rapid improvement in organisation and commercialism saw it promoted to the ACL.

The new Asian Champions League format, which will also include a Round of 16 between the league round and the quarterfinals, heavily reduces the opportunities for other nations.

The likes of Uzbekistan and Syria, whose two clubs each have both performed strongly in this year's competition, have been downgraded to only playoff status due to below-par off-field organization of the domestic leagues.

Asian football needs a big reformation process to make it professional and successful"

Mohamed bin Hammam, AFC President

Some cutbacks

Others to have their opportunities cut back from two teams each to playoffs are Iraq, the reigning national champions of Asia, due to understandable off-field issues, and Qatar, both host of the next Asian Cup and also the home country of AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

"Asian football needs a big reformation process to make it professional and successful, and I know radical changes might not please everybody, but we must have the courage of our conviction,'' Bin Hammam said.

Vietnam and Thailand, which each had two teams in this year's group stages, have been reduced to one team in a playoff due to relatively poor onfield performance and attendance.

Japan was the only nation to fully meet all the benchmarks for the new Champions League and received an A grade from the AFC committee.

Ten were awarded B grades on the expectation they will meet the criteria by October this year: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, India, Indonesia, Australia, China and South Korea.

Those nations must prove they have met the benchmarks in order to participate.

Syria, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore received C grades, as they were not expected to meet all the criteria by then.

Bahrain, Oman, Malaysia and Hong Kong do not meet the criteria and their clubs will not even be eligible for the Champions League playoffs, a significant downgrade from their current status of having two clubs each in the AFC Cup.

Source: Agencies