January 22 – AFC will draw the group stages for its extended Champions League and AFC Cup competitions next week (January 27) in Kuala Lumpur at AFC headquarters.
The draw, which will take place virtually, will see the Asian governing body increase its Champions League group stage from 32 to 40 clubs via two additional groups of four – one each in the Eastern and Eastern regions. the west.
The second tier AFC Cup will grow to 39 clubs from 36 in the last edition in 2019 (2020 has been canceled due to covid), with a newly introduced squad for the central zone.
The expansion of the Champions League opens up the possibility for teams from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Jordan and Iraq to deepen the competition with automatic group qualification slots.
Among the clubs making their group stage debuts in the AFC Champions League are Jordanian Pro League champion Al Wehdat, Indian FC Goa and two-time AFC Cup runners-up FC Istiklol from West Tajikistan, as well as United City FC from the Philippines, Tampines Rovers from Singapore and Viettel FC from Vietnam from the East region.
The 2020 edition of the AFC Champions League was completed using Qatar as a centralized location for the East and West groups late last year. The 2021 draw will select groups but not sites because, depending on the ferocity and spread of the pandemic, groups may need to be centralized again.
Ulsan Hyundai won the 2020 edition and is back in Qatar as the AFC representative in the first of two Club World Cups this year. Their first match is against the champions Concacaf Tigres UANL on February 4th. AFC will need to qualify their 2021 Champions League winner in time for the second Club World Cup in Qatar in December, which is also being used as another test event for the 2022 World Cup.
The AFC Cup has received an extra boost this year with this season’s winners guaranteed an opportunity to advance to the preliminary round of the 2022 AFC Champions League.
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