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AIFF attempting to secure AFC Champions League group stage spot for India

21:31 EAT 21/09/2019
Gianni Infantino Praful Patel
If the attempts of the AIFF leadership bear fruit, an Indian club could soon be playing in the group stages of Asia's premier club competition...

Playing in the AFC Champions League (ACL), the premier club competition in Asia, has always been a distant dream to Indian clubs. In fact, in its current format, no Indian club has ever reached the group stages.

Until last season, winners of the I-League had a spot in the preliminary qualifiers of the ACL but no club has ever managed to make it out of the rigorous qualifying format where they end up battling it out with strong West Asian clubs.

However, that could change if the efforts of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) bear fruit. 

AIFF President Praful Patel and General Secretary Kushal Das have been in talks with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) General Secretary Dato Windsor who was in India last week.

While a plethora of topics concerning Indian football were discussed, including AIFF's decision to reverse continental slots allocation. The reversal will see Indian Super League (ISL) league stage winners get the ACL preliminary qualifier spot while the I-League winners will have to settle for an AFC Cup play-off spot.

But Goal can confirm that the AIFF leadership have also been trying to convince the AFC supremo to hand India a confirmed spot in the AFC Champions League. The indications are that Windsor and the AFC leadership have positively responded to AIFF's request.

It has to be noted that Praful Patel is a former Senior Vice President of the AFC and a current member of the FIFA Council and his role in this development is vital.

If the AFC decides to give India a group stage spot in the ACL, it could mean the ISL league stage winners from the 2019-20 season could play in the 2021 AFC Champions League, which would mark a historic development for Indian football.

It has to be noted that India's standing as a footballing nation on the continent has grown in recent times, mainly thanks to the national team's improved performances. India have held Asian champions Qatar and giants China to goalless draws away from home and have beaten Thailand twice, also away from home.

Intriguingly, Thailand's league champions have a confirmed spot in the AFC Champions League since 2002.

Yes, Indian clubs will have to lock horns against teams which are far more stronger than they would normally face in the AFC Cup. However, the standards in Indian football will only improve if they consistently face quality opponents.

If the AIFF can manage to secure a spot in a competition where the continent's finest compete, it will be a massive step forward for Indian football. And it will be another feather in the cap for Patel and Das.