x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

AFC revamps Champions League

Middle Eastern clubs and East Asian teams will be slotted into 'West' and 'East' zones and separated until the semi-finals going forward, while the Arabian Gulf League will once again automatically qualify three clubs.

China's Guangzhou Evergrande won the 2013 AFC Champions League title. Bobby Yip / Reuters
China's Guangzhou Evergrande won the 2013 AFC Champions League title. Bobby Yip / Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia // Asia’s football body unveiled a new-look Champions League Wednesday, with Middle East and East Asian teams kept apart until the semi-finals and India among a group of countries to gain a play-off spot.

The Middle Eastern clubs will be slotted into a “West” zone, while the East Asian clubs will play in an “East” zone, with the two zones separated until the semi-finals. Arabian Gulf League clubs will participate in the West. The UAE will have three automatic qualification slots, as well as one play-off slot.

Australia, meanwhile, were handed a second automatic spot for the regional club competition while India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam all get a chance to enter via a broadened play-off system.

The updated format, which retains the two-legged final for the next three years, was announced after Asian Football Confederation (AFC) meetings in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

“This is part of the reform that we’ve talked about, the changes we want to create,” said AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

“Hopefully when 2015 comes, we can look back and say we made a difference, we made a change for the good.”

The competition’s list of winners is dominated by teams from East Asia, mainly South Korea and Japan, with China’s Guangzhou Evergrande the current holders.

However, Middle Eastern teams were handed an easier route with the decision to keep East and West Asian sides segregated until the semi-finals.

Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia all get four automatic qualifying spots, while China will have three with one team entered into the play-offs.