AFC announce Asian Cup expansion

24 teams will compete in the Asian Cup in 2019 while AFC Champions League will see a similar number of nations participating
The 2019 edition of the Asian Cup will feature 24 instead of 16 teams, AFC have announced following a meeting in Muscat where the AFC U-22 Championships were recently held.

The AFC Challenge Cup, which sees participation from lower ranked Asian teams, with winners gaining direct entry to the Asian Cup, will also be scrapped following this year's edition in Maldives.

Qualification process for the Asian Cup and Fifa World Cup will also be combined at the preliminary stage. AFC Member Associations (MAs) will be split into eight groups with the group winners and four second best teams going forward to the final qualifying round for Fifa World Cup, as well as gaining automatic entry to the Asian Cup. This also increases the number of Asian teams competing in the final round of the World Cup qualifiers from 10 to 12.

The top 24 remaining teams who failed to progress to the final round of World Cup qualifiers, will instead compete for a chance at the Asian Cup in six groups of four teams. However the final round of qualifiers for the World Cup and Asian Cup will remain separate.

Changes have also been implemented for AFC's club competitions. Assesment criteria for a nation's AFC Champions League eligibility will now also include national team performances over the previous four years. 30% of the criteria points will be drawn from national team with the remaining 70% based on clubs' showings.

The top 24 ranked MAs based on this new criteria will get a direct slot in the AFC Champions League group stage. Other criteria such as club licensing, existence of integrity programmes, organisation of a professinal league, satisfactory facilities and logical support also need to be fulfilled.

The next eight highest ranking MAs will get a direct slot in the AFC Cup group stage while those ranked from 33 to 47 will get a chance to play in the AFC Cup playoff stage.

The new rules will come into effect in competitions from 2015 with assesments taking place this year.

AFC President Shaikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa praised the new changesa and hoped for a positive impact.

“Competitions are the main products of AFC and I am happy that it is in the good hands,” he told 

“We must market our product and generate income to sustain football across the continent. I am sure that the changes that happen will have big impact in Asian football and will benefit our Member Associations."

The 2015 edition of the Asian Cup will be held in Australia next year while this year's AFC Champions League start next week with the preliminary round. Tampines Rovers take on South China FC on Sunday February 2 in hopes of becoming the first Singapore side since Warriors FC to make the tournament proper.

Singapore last qualified for the Asian Cup in 1984 when it was also held in the Lion City.