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Reconstructing the Asian Champions League



In the midst of the build-up to the European Champions League final, major changes to the Asian equivalent have been announced. The significance for the Australian participants is quite considerable.

Firstly and most obviously, the winners-only system for the first-round groups has been sensibly abandoned (as it was for the first round of World Cup qualifying in Asia, incidentally). The profusion of dead rubbers that habitually results from such a format is ruinous for gate takings, and by allowing the top two to progress from the opening groups, the AFC will surely be helping the clubs to offset the expenses of an ACL campaign (an important factor for Australian clubs).

Just as a side note, a traditional top-two progression from the opening group would have allowed Melbourne Victory – believe it or not – to advance to the Round of 16 in the current competition, had it been played under the revised ACL format!

Now to the matter of the revised allocations. Although, at first glance, the eastern side of the draw seems absurdly weighted in favour of “the big three” (Japan, China and South Korea), it makes sense in a way. Group F of the current competition has been a complete joke, with both Thai entrants Krung Thai Bank and the hapless Vietnamese club Nam Dinh conceding 27 goals over the course of six games. In Adelaide’s group, Binh Duong have been similarly uncompetitive.

The Vietnamese clubs clearly don’t belong at this level of competition, although admittedly the new allocations seem a bit rough on the Thais, given Chonburi’s commendable performances. But Thailand has fallen foul of the AFC’s tough new “professionalism” requirements, with the result that they have to battle it out for a repechage place in the group stage. Uzbekistan and Qatar have suffered the same fate in the western half, the former having particular grounds for disappointment following the exploits of Kuruvchi in this year’s Group A.

Australia, too, was given a less-than-favourable report card (what on earth does the word “threadbare” mean in that context, incidentally?). Some of the demands therein will be impossible to achieve by October this year (the promotion/relegation stipulation, for instance, which is a very long way off). Some compromise of sorts will no doubt be reached; there is no way that the AFC will bar Australian clubs from participation in the new competition.

So the groups will at least be competitive, even if the competition loses some diversity as a result. And although the Australian teams will no longer have a “bunny” in the group to swipe relatively easy points from, the move to two group qualifiers should offset this up to a point.

One innovation right out of left field is the guaranteed presence of an Indian club in the western half of the competition. TV revenue coming into play? Perhaps, but is interest in local football on the subcontinent (let alone the standard) really all that strong? Cricket’s IPL has been a roaring money-spinner, but I’m not sure if the ACL would prove a similar cash cow in India.

On the subject of Champions Leagues: felicitations to Manchester United on winning the European version for the third time. Not one of their best performances this season, but over the course of the competition they’ve shown themselves worthy of the honour, by and large.

Written by Mike Salter

Read more of his thoughts at The Football Tragic

Written by
Real Football

Published on May 26, 2008




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