Indonesia Miss Out In AFC Champions League Revamp

The AFC Champions League is set to expand from 32 to 40 teams in 2021, with several teams from South East Asia finally receiving direct qualification into the group phase of Asia’s most prestigious tournament.

In recent years, South East Asian hopefuls would have to run a gauntlet of unforgiving (and expensive) fixtures against the third and fourth best teams from countries such as Australia, Japan, and China in the hope of qualifying – most failed.

You only need to look at last year for horrible examples

Ceres-Negros, champions of the Philippines and a powerhouse in their domestic league won their preliminary qualifier. They were then drawn to play against Thailand’s Port team away (all matches for playoff participants are away from home) where they surprisingly won 1-0, and were just a game away from the AFC Champions League group phase.

Unfortunately, they were drawn to play FC Tokyo and crashed out of the qualifiers after losing 2-0. Their consolation prize was being parachuted into the group stage of the second tier AFC Cup, Asia’s equivalent of the Europa League.

Another team aiming to qualify was Indonesia’s Liga 1 champions Bali United, who faced Singaporean side Tampines Rovers, overcoming the home side 5-3 in extra time to set up a trip to Australia to play Melbourne Victory seven days later.

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Although they had their chances early, Bali United received a lesson in finishing from the hosts, and crashed out 5-0 to a Victory side valued at £12.51m. Conversely, Bali United’s squad is valued at £4.1m.

Both Ceres-Negros and Bali United were then placed into the AFC Cup group phase, with neither team ever realistically having a chance of qualifying through the playoff system.

Why Were South East Asian Teams Left Out Of The AFC Champions League?

From a strictly sporting perspective, it could be argued that teams from South East Asia are not deserving of a spot amongst Asia’s elite.

However, as we have seen with the expansion of the Champions League in Europe, more teams and more groups put more players in the shop window, and most fans enjoy watching an occasional upset on a Wednesday night.

In Asia, the financial gap between clubs from China, Japan, and the Middle East when compared to their South East Asian neighbours is staggering.

Giving these smaller teams an opportunity to bring in additional sponsor revenue from TV rights would be a huge opportunity to then develop local leagues, as other teams aspire to reach the promised land of the financial windfall playing in the AFC Champions League group stage would bring.

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Aside from the financial aspect, there is also the passion the region would bring to the stadiums.

In countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines fan culture is a huge part of football, and fans pack the stadiums making a cacophony of noise. The atmosphere is electric, and the scene would definitely be set for the smaller teams to upset their more fancied rivals, many of whom would not fancy a trip to such hostile stadiums.

Contrast the passion in South East Asia with the apathy of fans from countries such as Japan and Australia who simply have not taken the Asian Champions League to heart, with stadiums often struggling to reach 50% capacity.

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One reason for this could be their clubs don’t appear interested either. In the 2020 Asian Champions League Perth Glory finished bottom of their group with one point. Sydney FC finished bottom of their group with just one win and two draws.

Melbourne Victory just managed to sneak out of their group with two wins and a draw, before being bundled out in the Round of 16 by eventual champions Ulsan Hyundai.

Mercifully, in the revamped AFC Champions League Australia will have just one team automatically qualify, so one hopes that absence of continental football makes the heart grow fonder, and teams from the oceanic country see playing in Asia as a privilege not a right.

Indonesia Miss Out In AFC Champions League Revamp

When the list of countries to receive an automatic qualification spot for the 2021 AFC Champions League was announced, a noticeable absentee was Indonesia. How did the archipelago, home to 273 million people and the fourth largest country in the world, miss out?

Liga 1 is arguably the third strongest league in the region, behind Malaysia and Thailand, and the population is football-mad. While almost all leagues resumed their 2020 season after pausing in March and April due to the pandemic, Indonesia did not.

Liga 1 was postponed after just three rounds, then dates of September and December were thrown around for a resumption of play. The governing body, PSSI, then announced at the end of October that the 2020 season would not resume until February 2021.

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However, not having a champion to put forward is not the reason Indonesia won’t have a team automatically qualify for the 2021 AFC Champions League…

The reason is a purely sporting one, as entries to the AFC Club Competitions are governed by the Entry Manual for AFC Club Competitions. In accordance with the relevant Articles of the Entry Manual, Member Associations ranked between 1st to 12th in each ACL region (West and East) are allocated slots to participate in the AFC Champions League.

Unfortunately, Indonesia is ranked 13th in ACL East (28th overall) based on the AFC Club Competitions Ranking 2019, which determines the slots for AFC Club Competitions 2021. Therefore, Indonesia has not been allocated any slots to participate in the ACL in 2021.

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The AFC Club Competitions Ranking is a ranking system launched by the AFC in 2014.The ranking is based on the results of teams participating in the last four years of the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup. The ranking is used for example to decide who plays who in the Champions League preliminary rounds.

In a cruel twist of fate, the only change to the top twelve from 2019 was North Korea, who vaulted in at number seven, but no teams from North Korea were granted an AFC Champions League license.

Ouch.

Indonesian Clubs Made Their Bed

So how did we get to the point where the fourth most populous country in the world, one with a domestic league that is now stable after years of controversy, is beaten into the automatic qualifying spots by footballing minnows such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Myanmar?

It’s incredible that Hong Kong qualified

Let’s look back at the four years (2017 to 2020) that make up points for 2021:

2017 was the first year of Liga 1, after years of match fixing scandals had blighted football in Indonesia. A new league, new sponsors, and a new TV deal was the new start everyone needed, however, the country didn’t submit any teams for the AFC Cup, despite having enough points to finish third in the ASEAN Zone.

2018 saw champions Bhayangkara and third place finishers PSM Makassar fail to obtain an AFC licence, so it was up to league runners up Bali United and fourth place finishers Persija Jakarta to fly the flag.

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With their eyes firmly focussed on domestic success, and some questionable scheduling from PSSI that saw Bali United scheduled to play a Presidents Cup semi-final the day after an AFC Cup game for no reason, the Tridatu Warriors crashed out of the group stage, finishing bottom with five points.

Persija Jakarta faired better in the group stage, topping their group with 13 points in a ‘group of death’ that featured Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim. However, the lub advanced no further, losing to Singapore’s Home United in the ASEAN Zonal semi-finals.

In 2019, Indonesia once again qualified two teams for the AFC Cup group phase, Persija Jakarta, the 2018 champions, and PSM Makassar, the 2018 runners-up.

After a change of manager in the off season, Persija Jakarta had a nightmare start to 2019, which culminated in finishing third in their AFC Cup group.

While PSM Makassar topped their group, they lost their ASEAN Zonal semi-final to Becamex Bình Dương of Vietnam.

2020 saw a return to the competition for Bali United, having won the Liga 1 championship in 2019, and for PSM Makassar as the cup winners.

The 2020 AFC Cup was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but both teams were unlikely to have made it out of their groups anyway.

So a year with zero points followed by mediocrity on the Asian stage paved the way for other countries to catch up and surpass Indonesia, owing to their better performances in the AFC Cup.

In the 2021 AFC Cup, Bali United and Persipura Jayapura will represent Indonesia in the group stage. As there was no league or cup played in Indonesia in 2020, these two teams represent the first and third place finishers from 2019, as PSM Makassar were once again not granted an AFC Cup licence.

At the conclusion of 2021, the zero point season of 2017 will drop off the AFC Club Competitions Ranking, and the 2021 points will be added.

If these two teams put in a strong showing in the group stage, the door will be opened for an Indonesian team to walk directly into the AFC Champions League in 2022…

AFC Rebrands Major National Team And Club Competitions

On January 4, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) launched brand-new logomarks and visual identities for its major national team tournaments – the AFC Asian Qualifiers, AFC Asian Cup, AFC Women’s Asian Cup, AFC U23 Asian Cup, and the hugely popular annual club competitions – the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup.

The new look and feel will be prominently featured across all fan focussed touch-points with the AFC competitions in the coming years, from the match venues, to television broadcasts and social media channels.

A particular focus for the AFC will be to bring fans of Asian football, fresh and visually captivating content across all of the AFC’s official channels including its sought-after and multi-lingual social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, Toutiao, Douyin, LINE, VKontakte and Telegram, and the AFC’s website.

The spirit behind the brands will also be reflected by the AFC and its commercial partners across a wide range of marketing activities planned to engage fans across the Continent in the coming years.

The rebranding was managed together with the AFC’s exclusive commercial partner FMA over a 15-month period and was informed by deep stakeholder collaboration and extensive consumer research across Asia. This process ultimately informed the unique character and design of the new competition brands.

Inspired by football stadiums and the colours Asia’s national teams wear proudly, the dynamic visual arrangement for AFC national team competitions embraces the very places where Asia’s champions are crowned and fans support the Continent’s best national teams and biggest heroes.

To create an unmistakable connection between the competitions, the AFC Asian Cup, AFC Women’s Asian Cup and AFC U23 Asian Cup logomarks share the same fundamental elements and now proudly feature the tournaments’ distinctive trophies.

These new logomarks will be adapted in respect of each competition, to reflect local elements of the host Member Association.

To further highlight its importance and commercial value, a dedicated logomark is also introduced for the AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Final Round, which will begin in the second half of 2021 and determine the teams that will advance to represent their nations on the world stage.

Asia’s most iconic cities, dazzling architecture and neon-lit downtowns, as well as the vibrant lifestyle of the primarily younger, close to one billion strong AFC Champions League fanbase, on the other hand, drives the premium aesthetic of the Continent’s pinnacle club competition. A contemporary creative interpretation of the iconic AFC Champions League trophy combines elements from the West and East regions in a spectacular new look.

The AFC Cup has also received a makeover, now incorporating the five colours representing the regions where the competition is played and boasting a strikingly different new visual identity.

Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the AFC President, said: “We are delighted to start the new year with all-new AFC national team and club competition brands. The AFC strives to make its competitions even more relevant for its diverse fanbase while showcasing their unique reputation as Asia’s most popular football events. I am convinced the new visual identities will resonate strongly across Asia and worldwide, and I am looking forward to the new look and feel across social media and TV broadcast.”

Patrick Murphy, Board Member and CEO at FMA, commented: “Today is an important day from various perspectives: fans of Asian football can enjoy and experience the new AFC competition brands, while sponsors and broadcast partners, as well as clubs and Member Associations will start to actively use the exciting new visual identities to promote AFC competitions to their audiences. A proud moment and a major milestone as we are moving into a new era of Asian football.”

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