AFC Champions League

The AFC Champions League (abbreviated as ACL) is an annual continental club football competition organised by the Asian Football Confederation. The competition is a continuation of the Asian Club Championship which had started in 1967.

AFC Champions League
Founded1967 (1967)
(rebranded in 2002)
RegionAsia (AFC)
Number of teams40 (group stage)
48 (total)
Qualifier forFIFA Club World Cup
Related competitionsAFC Cup (2nd tier)
Current champions Ulsan Hyundai (2nd title)
Most successful club(s) Al Hilal
Pohang Steelers
(3 titles each)
WebsiteOfficial website
2021 AFC Champions League

A total of 40 clubs compete in the round robin group stage of the competition. Clubs from Asia's strongest national leagues receive automatic berths, with clubs from lower-ranked nations eligible to qualify via the qualifying playoffs, and they are also eligible to participate in the AFC Cup. The winner of the AFC Champions League qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup.

The most successful clubs in the competition are Al-Hilal and Pohang Steelers with a total of three titles each. The reigning champions of the competition are Ulsan Hyundai, who won the competition for the second time in 2020.

History

1967–1972: Asian Champion Club Tournament

Taj SC and Hapoel Tel Aviv in final match of the 1970 edition.

The competition started as the Asian Champion Club Tournament, a tournament for the champions of AFC nations, and had a variety of different formats, with the inaugural tournament staged as a straightforward knockout format and the following three editions consisting of a group stage.

While Israeli clubs dominated the first four editions of the competition, this was partly due to the refusal of Arab teams to face them. In 1970, Lebanese side Homenetmen refused to play against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the semi-final, giving Hapoel a forfeit into the final, while in 1971, Al-Shorta of Iraq refused to play against Maccabi Tel Aviv on three occasions: in the preliminary round, the group stage, and the final itself.[1] The Iraqi media considered Al-Shorta as the tournament's winners, and the team held an open top bus parade in Baghdad.[2] After the 1972 edition had to be cancelled by the AFC when two Arab teams refused to commit to playing against Israeli side Maccabi Netanya, the AFC discontinued the competition, and Israel were expelled from the confederation.

1985–2002: Return as the Asian Club Championship

Asia's premier club tournament made its return in 1985 as the Asian Club Championship,[3] and in 1990, the Asian Football Confederation introduced the Asian Cup Winners' Cup, a tournament for the cup winners of each AFC nation. The 1995 season saw the introduction of the Asian Super Cup, where the winners of the Asian Club Championship and Asian Cup Winners' Cup played against each other.

2002–present: AFC Champions League

FIFA President Gianni Infantino and more than 100,000 fans watching the 2018 AFC Champions League Final at Azadi Stadium.

The 2002–03 season saw the Asian Club Championship, Asian Cup Winners' Cup and Asian Super Cup combine to become the AFC Champions League. League champions and cup winners would qualify for the qualifying playoffs with the best eight clubs from East Asia and the eight best clubs from West Asia progressing to the group stage. The first winners under the AFC Champions League name were Al-Ain, defeating BEC Tero Sasana 2–1 on aggregate. In 2004, 29 clubs from fourteen countries participated and the tournament schedule was changed to March–November. In the group stage, the 28 clubs were divided into seven groups of four on a regional basis, separating East Asian and West Asian clubs to reduce travel costs, and the groups were played on a home and away basis. The seven group winners along with the defending champions qualified to the quarterfinals. The quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals were played as a two-legged format, with away goals, extra time, and penalties used as tie-breakers.

The 2005 season saw Syrian clubs join the competition, thus increasing the number of participating countries to 15, and two years later, following their transfer into the AFC in 2006, Australian clubs were also included in the tournament. Owing to the lack of professionalism in Asian football, many problems still existed in the tournament, such as on field violence and late submission of player registration. Many blamed the lack of prize money and expensive travel cost as some of the reasons. The Champions League expanded to 32 clubs in 2009 with direct entry to the top ten Asian leagues. Each country received up to 4 slots, though no more than one-third of the number of teams in that country's top division, rounded downwards, depending on the strength of their league, league structure (professionalism), marketability, financial status, and other criteria set by the AFC Pro-League Committee.[4] The assessment criteria and ranking for participating associations would be revised by AFC every two years.[5]

The current format sees the eight group winners and eight runners-up qualify to the Round of 16, in which group winners play host to the runners-up in two-legged series, matched regionally, with away goals, extra time, and penalties used as tie-breakers. The regional restriction continues all the way until the final, although clubs from the same country cannot face each other in the quarterfinals unless that country has three or more representatives in the quarterfinals. Since 2013, the final has also been held as a two-legged series, on a home and away basis.[6][7]

Beginning from 2021, the group stage will be expanded from 32 to 40 teams, with both the West and East Regions having five groups of four teams. The slot allocation for the top six member associations in each region will remain unchanged.[8]

Format

Qualification

Map of AFC countries whose teams reached the group stage of the AFC Champions League
  AFC member country that has been represented in the group stage
  AFC member country that has not been represented in the group stage

As of the 2009 edition of the tournament, the AFC Champions League has commenced with a double round-robin group stage of 32 teams, which is preceded by qualifying matches for teams that do not receive direct entry to the competition proper. Teams are also split into east and west zones to progress separately in the tournament.

The number of teams that each association enters into the AFC Champions League is determined annually through criteria as set by the AFC Competitions Committee.[9] The criteria, which is a modified version of the UEFA coefficient, measures such thing as marketability and stadia to determine the specific number of berths that an association receives. The higher an association's ranking as determined by the criteria, the more teams represent the association in the Champions League, and the fewer qualification rounds the association's teams must compete in.

Tournament

The tournament proper begins with a group stage of 40 teams, divided into ten groups. Seeding is used whilst making the draw for this stage, with teams from the same country not being drawn into groups together. The group stage is divided into two zones; the first zone is the five East Asian groups and the other zone is the five West Asian groups. Each team meets the others in its group home and away in a round-robin format. The winning team and the runners-up from each group then progress to the next round.

For this stage, the winning team from one group plays against the runners-up from another group from their zone of the group stage. The tournament uses the away goals rule: if the aggregate score of the two games is tied after 180 minutes, then the team who scored more goals at their opponent's stadium advances. If still tied the clubs play extra time, where the away goals rule is no longer applied. If still tied after extra time, the tie shall be decided by a penalty shootout. East and West zones continue to be kept part until the final.[9]

The group stage and Round of 16 matches are played through the first half of the year (February–May), whilst the knock-out stage thereafter is played during the second half of the year (August–November). The knock-out ties are played in a two-legged format, including the final.

Allocation

Teams from only 19 AFC countries have reached the group stage of the AFC Champions League. The allocation of teams by member countries is listed below; asterisks represent occasions where at least one team was eliminated in qualification prior to the group stage. 32 AFC countries have had teams participate in qualification, and countries that have never had teams reach the group stage are not shown.

Associations Entrants
2002–03 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
East Asia
Australia Part of OFC 2 2 2 2 2 3 1* 3 2* 2* 3 2* 2* 3 0
China PR 2 2 2 2 2 2 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 3* 4 4 4 2*
Hong Kong 0* 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0* 1* 1* 0* 0* 1
Indonesia 0* 2 2 0 2 0 1* 1* 1* 0* 0 0 0* 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0
Japan 2 2 2 2 2 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3* 4
South Korea 2 2 2 2 3 2 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Malaysia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0* 1* 1* 1
Philippines 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0* 2
Singapore 0* 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 1
Thailand 2 2 2 0 1 2 0* 0* 0* 1* 2 1* 1* 1* 1* 1* 1* 1* 4
Vietnam 0* 2 2 2 1 2 0 0* 0 0 0 0* 1* 1* 0* 0* 0* 0* 1
Total 8 12 12 8 13 13 16 16 15 15 15 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 20
West Asia
Bahrain 0* 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0 0 0* 0 0* 0*
India 0* 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 1
Iran 2 2 2 2 1 2 4 4 4 3* 3* 4 4 3* 4 4 3* 4 4
Iraq 1* 2 2 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0 0 0 0 1* 1* 2*
Jordan 0* 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 0* 1
Kuwait 0* 1 2 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 0 0 0 0* 0* 0*
Qatar 1* 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 4 4 4 2* 2* 2* 4 3* 2* 3*
Saudi Arabia 1* 2 3 3 2 2 4 4 4 3* 4 4 4 4 4 2 4 4 3*
Syria 0* 0 2 2 2 2 0 0* 0* 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tajikistan 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0* 0* 1
Turkmenistan 1* 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
United Arab Emirates 1* 3 2 2 2 2 4 4 4 4 4 3* 2* 3* 4 4 3* 4 3*
Uzbekistan 1* 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3* 2* 1* 4 4 2* 2* 2* 1* 2
Total 8 14 17 17 15 16 16 16 17 17 17 16 16 16 16 16 16 16 20
Total
Finals 16 26 29 25 28 29 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 32 40
Qualifying 53 26 29 25 28 29 35 37 36 37 35 47 49 45 47 46 51 52 45

Prize money

The prize money for the 2020 AFC Champions League:[10]

Phase Purse
(USD)
Travel Subsidy
(per match)
Preliminary stage N/A $40,000
Playoff stage N/A $40,000
Group stages Win: $50,000
Draw: $10,000
$60,000
Round of 16 $100,000 $60,000
Quarter-finals $150,000 $60,000
Semi-finals $250,000 $60,000
Final Champions: $4,000,000
Runners-up: $2,000,000
$120,000

Marketing

Sponsorship

Tournament's trophy since 2009, following the logo redesign.

Like the FIFA World Cup, the AFC Champions League is sponsored by a group of multinational corporations, in contrast to the single main sponsor typically found in national top-flight leagues.

The tournament's current main sponsors are:

Video game

The current license holder for the AFC Champions League video game is Konami with the Pro Evolution Soccer series.[14] The license also includes the competing teams.

Records and statistics

Medals by Nations (1967 - 2020)

AFC Champions League since 2002–03 AFC Champions League have not Third place match and semi final losers are assumed bronze medal.

RankNationGoldSilverBronzeTotal
1 South Korea126927
2 Japan74718
3 Saudi Arabia59822
4 Iran36716
5 China32611
6 Israel3104
7 Qatar2158
8 Thailand2114
9 United Arab Emirates1348
10 Australia1102
11 Iraq0224
12 Malaysia0123
13 Oman0101
 Syria0101
15 Uzbekistan0055
16 Indonesia0022
17 Kuwait0011
 Lebanon0011
Totals (18 nations)393960138

Overall performances by club

Performances in the Asian Club Championship and AFC Champions League by club
Club Titles Runners-up Seasons won Seasons runner-up
Al-Hilal 3 4 1991, 1999–2000, 2019 1986, 1987, 2014, 2017
Pohang Steelers 3 0 1996–97, 1997–98, 2009
Esteghlal 2 2 1970, 1990–91 1991, 1998–99
Seongnam FC 2 2 1995, 2010 1996–97, 2004
Al-Ittihad 2 1 2004, 2005 2009
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2 1 2006, 2016 2011
Urawa Red Diamonds 2 1 2007, 2017 2019
Maccabi Tel Aviv1 2 0 1969, 1971
Al-Sadd 2 0 1988–89, 2011
Thai Farmers Bank2 2 0 1993–94, 1994–95
Suwon Samsung Bluewings 2 0 2000–01, 2001–02
Ulsan Hyundai 2 0 2012, 2020
Guangzhou 2 0 2013, 2015
Júbilo Iwata 1 2 1998–99 1999–2000, 2000–01
Al-Ain 1 2 2002–03 2005, 2016
Hapoel Tel Aviv1 1 1 1967 1970
Liaoning2 1 1 1989–90 1990–91
Busan IPark 1 0 1985–86
JEF United Chiba 1 0 1986
Tokyo Verdy 1 0 1987
PAS Tehran2 1 0 1992–93
Gamba Osaka 1 0 2008
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 0 2014
Kashima Antlers 1 0 2018
Al-Ahli 0 2 1985–86, 2012
FC Seoul 0 2 2001–02, 2013
Persepolis 0 2 2018, 2020
Selangor 0 1 1967
Yangzee2 0 1 1969
Al-Shorta 0 1 1971
Al-Rasheed2 0 1 1988–89
Yokohama F. Marinos 0 1 1989–90
Al-Shabab 0 1 1992–93
Oman Club 0 1 1993–94
Al-Arabi 0 1 1994–95
Al-Nassr 0 1 1995
Dalian Shide2 0 1 1997–98
Police Tero 0 1 2002–03
Al-Karamah 0 1 2006
Sepahan 0 1 2007
Adelaide United 0 1 2008
Zob Ahan 0 1 2010
Shabab Al-Ahli 0 1 2015

1 In 1974 the Israel FA was expelled from the AFC due to political pressure, and became a full UEFA member in 1994. As a result, Israeli clubs no longer participate in AFC tournaments but in their UEFA counterparts instead.
2 Teams that no longer exist.

Overall performances by nation

Performances in finals by nation
Nation Titles Runners-up Total
 South Korea 12 6 18
 Japan 7 4 11
 Saudi Arabia 5 9 14
 Iran 3 6 9
 China 3 2 5
 Israel 3 1 4
 Qatar 2 1 3
 Thailand 2 1 3
 United Arab Emirates 1 3 4
 Australia 1 1 2
 Iraq 0 2 2
 Malaysia 0 1 1
 Oman 0 1 1
 Syria 0 1 1

Performances by region

Federation (Region) Titles Total
EAFF (East Asia) East Zone 22 25
AFF (Southeast Asia) 3
WAFF (West Asia) West Zone 8 11
CAFA (Central Asia) 3
SAFF (South Asia) 0

Note: Israeli clubs, winners of the 1967, 1969 and 1971 editions, are not included.

Awards

Most Valuable Player

YearPlayerClub
1996–97 An Ik-soo[15] Pohang Steelers
1997–98Unknown or not awarded
1998–99 Seydou Traoré[16] Al-Ain
1999–2000 Sérgio Ricardo Messias Neves[17]Al-Hilal
2000–01 Zoltan Sabo[18] Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2001–02Unknown or not awarded
2002–03 Therdsak Chaiman[19] BEC Tero Sasana
2004 Redha Tukar[20] Al-Ittihad
2005Unknown or not awarded
2006
2007 Yuichiro Nagai Urawa Red Diamonds
2008 Yasuhito Endō Gamba Osaka
2009 No Byung-jun Pohang Steelers
2010 Sasa Ognenovski Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2011 Lee Dong-gook Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2012 Lee Keun-ho Ulsan Hyundai
2013 Muriqui Guangzhou Evergrande
2014 Ante Covic Western Sydney Wanderers
2015 Ricardo Goulart Guangzhou Evergrande
2016 Omar Abdulrahman Al-Ain
2017 Yōsuke Kashiwagi Urawa Red Diamonds
2018 Yuma Suzuki Kashima Antlers
2019 Bafétimbi Gomis Al-Hilal
2020 Yoon Bit-garam[21] Ulsan Hyundai

Top Scorer

YearPlayerClubGoals
2002–03 Hao Haidong Dalian Shide9
2004 Kim Do-hoon Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma9
2005 Mohamed Kallon Al-Ittihad6
2006 Magno Alves Gamba Osaka8
2007 Mota Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma7
2008 Nantawat Tansopa Krung Thai Bank9
2009 Leandro Gamba Osaka10
2010 Jose Mota Suwon Samsung Bluewings9
2011 Lee Dong-gook Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors9
2012 Ricardo Oliveira Al-Jazira12
2013 Muriqui Guangzhou Evergrande13
2014 Asamoah Gyan Al-Ain12
2015 Ricardo Goulart Guangzhou Evergrande8
2016 Adriano FC Seoul13
2017 Omar Kharbin Al-Hilal10
2018 Baghdad Bounedjah Al-Sadd13
2019 Bafétimbi Gomis Al-Hilal11
2020 Abderrazak Hamdallah[22] Al Nassr7

Fair Play Award

YearClub
2007 Urawa Red Diamonds
2008 Gamba Osaka
2009 Pohang Steelers
2010 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2011 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2012 Ulsan Hyundai
2013 FC Seoul
2014 Al-Hilal
2015 Guangzhou Evergrande
2016 Al-Ain
2017 Urawa Red Diamonds
2018 Persepolis
2019 Urawa Red Diamonds
2020 Ulsan Hyundai[21]

See also

  • AFC Cup
  • AFC Women's Club Championship
  • Continental football championships
  • List of association football competitions

References

  1. Amitsur, D. (22 August 1971). "The Arabs' leg up to Israel in Asian football" (in Hebrew). Davar.
  2. "Al-Mal'ab Newspaper - April 1971 - Champions of Asia Return to Baghdad". Kooora (in Arabic). April 1971. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  3. "History of the Asian Club Championship". Asian Football. 9 April 1997.
  4. "Asian Football Confederation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
  5. "Criteria for Participation in AFC Club Competitions" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 August 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  6. "AFC Slots". Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  7. "AFC to invest in new era of national team and club competitions". AFC. 26 October 2019.
  8. "AFC ExCo okays ACL slots, format". The-afc.com. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  9. AFC Champions League 2020 Competition Regulations. Asian Football Confederation. p. 68. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  10. "AFC and NEOM announce four-year global sponsorship rights deal" (Press release). Asian Football Confederation. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  11. "AFC and KONAMI sign new sponsorship and licensing deal" (Press release). Asian Football Confederation. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  12. "AFC appoints world-leading ball manufacturer Molten as official match ball supplier". www.the-afc.com. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  13. "PES 2016 licenses revealed!". Pro Evolution Soccer. Archived from the original on 18 September 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  14. "1996 ASIAN CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP". Asian Football Confederation. 7 July 1997. Archived from the original on 7 July 1997.
  15. "Asian Club Championship 18th Edition 1998/99". Asian Football Confederation. 22 April 1999. Archived from the original on 22 April 1999.
  16. Ricardo Messias Neves "AFC Champions League – MVP Memories:Sérgio Ricardo Messias Neves" Check |url= value (help). the-afc.com. Asian Football Confederation. 11 October 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  17. "수원 삼성, 아시아클럽축구 평정". The Chosun Ilbo (in Korean). 27 May 2001. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  18. "AFC Champions League – MVP Memories: Therdsak Chaiman". the-afc.com. Asian Football Confederation. 11 October 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  19. "Shandong Luneng suffer 7–2 blow at Champions League". China Daily. 22 September 2005. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  20. "Ulsan Hyundai's Yoon Bit-garam named 2020 AFC Champions League MVP". the-afc.com. Asian Football Confederation. 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  21. "Al Nassr's Abderrazak Hamdallah wins 2020 AFC Champions League Top Scorer award". the-afc.com. Asian Football Confederation. 19 December 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
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