AFC Champions League

Last updated

AFC Champions League
AFC Champions League 2008 logo.png
Founded1967;54 years ago (1967)
(rebranded in 2002)
RegionAsia (AFC)
Number of teams40 (group stage)
48 (total)
Qualifier for FIFA Club World Cup
Related competitions AFC Cup (2nd tier)
Current champions Flag of South Korea.svg Ulsan Hyundai (2nd title)
Most successful club(s) Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al Hilal
Flag of South Korea.svg Pohang Steelers
(3 titles each)
Website Official website
Soccerball current event.svg 2021 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.

Contents

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. Taj vs hapoel.jpg
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. Persepolis FC vs Kashima Antlers 10 November 2018 14.jpg
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
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AFC member country that has been represented in the group stage
AFC member country that has not been represented in the group stage AFC members Champions League participants.svg
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.

AssociationsEntrants
2002–03 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
East Asia
Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia Part of OFC 2222231*32*2*32*2*31*
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg China PR 222222444344443*4442*
Flag of Hong Kong.svg Hong Kong 0*00000000000*0*0*1*1*0*0*1
Flag of Indonesia.svg Indonesia 0*220201*1*1*0*000*000*0*0*0
Flag of Japan.svg Japan 222223444444444443*3*
Flag of South Korea.svg South Korea 2222324444444444443*
Flag of Malaysia.svg Malaysia 0000000000000*0*0*0*1*1*1
Flag of the Philippines.svg Philippines 000000000000000*0*0*0*1*
Flag of Singapore.svg Singapore 0*00000110000*0*0*0*0*0*0*1
Flag of Thailand.svg Thailand 2220120*0*0*1*21*1*1*1*1*1*1*3*
Flag of Vietnam.svg Vietnam 0*2221200*0000*1*1*0*0*0*0*1
Total812128131316161515151616161616161620
West Asia
Flag of Bahrain.svg Bahrain 0*20000000000*0*000*00*0*
Flag of India.svg India 0*000000*0*0*000*0*0*0*0*0*0*1
Flag of Iran.svg Iran 2222124443*3*443*443*44
Flag of Iraq.svg Iraq 1*22222000000*00001*1*2*
Flag of Jordan.svg Jordan 0*00000000000*0*0*0*0*0*0*1
Flag of Kuwait.svg Kuwait 0*12222000000*0*0000*0*0*
Flag of Qatar.svg Qatar 1*222222234442*2*2*43*2*3*
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Saudi Arabia 1*233224443*444442443*
Flag of Syria.svg Syria 0*0222200*0*0000000000
Flag of Tajikistan.svg Tajikistan 00000000000000000*0*1
Flag of Turkmenistan.svg Turkmenistan 1*000000000000000000
Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg United Arab Emirates 1*32222444443*2*3*443*43*
Flag of Uzbekistan.svg Uzbekistan 1*222222223*2*1*442*2*2*1*2
Total8141717151616161717171616161616161620
Total
Finals16262925282932323232323232323232323240
Qualifying53262925282935373637354749454746515250

Prize money

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

PhasePurse
(USD)
Travel Subsidy
(per match)
Preliminary stageN/A$40,000
Playoff stageN/A$40,000
Group stagesWin: $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
FinalChampions: $4,000,000
Runners-up: $2,000,000
$120,000

Marketing

Sponsorship

Tournament's trophy since 2009, following the logo redesign. AFC Champions League trophy.jpg
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

Overall performances by club

Performances in the Asian Club Championship and AFC Champions League by club
ClubTitlesRunners-upSeasons wonSeasons runner-up
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Hilal 34 1991, 1999–2000, 2019 1986, 1987, 2014, 2017
Flag of South Korea.svg Pohang Steelers 30 1996–97, 1997–98, 2009
Flag of Iran.svg Esteghlal 22 1970, 1990–91 1991, 1998–99
Flag of South Korea.svg Seongnam FC 22 1995, 2010 1996–97, 2004
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Ittihad 21 2004, 2005 2009
Flag of South Korea.svg Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 21 2006, 2016 2011
Flag of Japan.svg Urawa Red Diamonds 21 2007, 2017 2019
Flag of Israel.svg Maccabi Tel Aviv 1 20 1969, 1971
Flag of Qatar.svg Al-Sadd 20 1988–89, 2011
Flag of Thailand.svg Thai Farmers Bank 20 1993–94, 1994–95
Flag of South Korea.svg Suwon Samsung Bluewings 20 2000–01, 2001–02
Flag of South Korea.svg Ulsan Hyundai 20 2012, 2020
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Guangzhou 20 2013, 2015
Flag of Japan.svg Júbilo Iwata 12 1998–99 1999–2000, 2000–01
Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Al-Ain 12 2002–03 2005, 2016
Flag of Israel.svg Hapoel Tel Aviv 1 11 1967 1970
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Liaoning 11 1989–90 1990–91
Flag of South Korea.svg Busan IPark 10 1985–86
Flag of Japan.svg JEF United Chiba 10 1986
Flag of Japan.svg Tokyo Verdy 10 1987
Flag of Iran.svg PAS Tehran 10 1992–93
Flag of Japan.svg Gamba Osaka 10 2008
Flag of Australia (converted).svg Western Sydney Wanderers 10 2014
Flag of Japan.svg Kashima Antlers 10 2018
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Ahli 02 1985–86, 2012
Flag of South Korea.svg FC Seoul 02 2001–02, 2013
Flag of Iran.svg Persepolis 02 2018, 2020
Flag of Malaysia.svg Selangor 01 1967
Flag of South Korea.svg Yangzee 01 1969
Flag of Iraq.svg Al-Shorta 01 1971
Flag of Iraq.svg Al-Rasheed 01 1988–89
Flag of Japan.svg Yokohama F. Marinos 01 1989–90
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Shabab 01 1992–93
Flag of Oman.svg Oman Club 01 1993–94
Flag of Qatar.svg Al-Arabi 01 1994–95
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Nassr 01 1995
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Dalian Shide 01 1997–98
Flag of Thailand.svg Police Tero 01 2002–03
Flag of Syria.svg Al-Karamah 01 2006
Flag of Iran.svg Sepahan 01 2007
Flag of Australia (converted).svg Adelaide United 01 2008
Flag of Iran.svg Zob Ahan 01 2010
Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Shabab Al-Ahli 01 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.

Overall performances by nation

Performances in finals by nation
NationTitlesRunners-upTotal
Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea 12618
Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 7411
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg  Saudi Arabia 5914
Flag of Iran.svg  Iran 369
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 325
Flag of Israel.svg  Israel 314
Flag of Qatar.svg  Qatar 213
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand 213
Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg  United Arab Emirates 134
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 112
Flag of Iraq.svg  Iraq 022
Flag of Malaysia.svg  Malaysia 011
Flag of Oman.svg  Oman 011
Flag of Syria.svg  Syria 011

Performances by region

Federation (Region)TitlesTotal
EAFF (East Asia)East Zone2225
AFF (Southeast Asia)3
WAFF (West Asia)West Zone811
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 Flag of South Korea.svg An Ik-soo [15] Flag of South Korea.svg Pohang Steelers
1997–98 Unknown or not awarded
1998–99 Flag of Burkina Faso.svg Seydou Traoré [16] Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Al-Ain
1999–2000 Unknown or not awarded
2000–01 Flag of Serbia and Montenegro (1992-2006).svg Zoltan Sabo [17] Flag of South Korea.svg Suwon Samsung Bluewings
2001–02 Unknown or not awarded
2002–03 Flag of Thailand.svg Therdsak Chaiman [18] Flag of Thailand.svg BEC Tero Sasana
2004 Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Redha Tukar [19] Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Ittihad
2005 Unknown or not awarded
2006
2007 Flag of Japan.svg Yuichiro Nagai Flag of Japan.svg Urawa Red Diamonds
2008 Flag of Japan.svg Yasuhito Endō Flag of Japan.svg Gamba Osaka
2009 Flag of South Korea.svg No Byung-jun Flag of South Korea.svg Pohang Steelers
2010 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Sasa Ognenovski Flag of South Korea.svg Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2011 Flag of South Korea.svg Lee Dong-gook Flag of South Korea.svg Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2012 Flag of South Korea.svg Lee Keun-ho Flag of South Korea.svg Ulsan Hyundai
2013 Flag of Brazil.svg Muriqui Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Guangzhou Evergrande
2014 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Ante Covic Flag of Australia (converted).svg Western Sydney Wanderers
2015 Flag of Brazil.svg Ricardo Goulart Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Guangzhou Evergrande
2016 Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Omar Abdulrahman Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Al-Ain
2017 Flag of Japan.svg Yōsuke Kashiwagi Flag of Japan.svg Urawa Red Diamonds
2018 Flag of Japan.svg Yuma Suzuki Flag of Japan.svg Kashima Antlers
2019 Flag of France.svg Bafétimbi Gomis Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Hilal
2020 Flag of South Korea.svg Yoon Bit-garam [20] Flag of South Korea.svg Ulsan Hyundai

Top Scorer

YearFootballerClubGoals
2002–03 Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Hao Haidong Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Dalian Shide 9
2004 Flag of South Korea.svg Kim Do-hoon Flag of South Korea.svg Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 9
2005 Flag of Sierra Leone.svg Mohamed Kallon Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Ittihad 6
2006 Flag of Brazil.svg Magno Alves Flag of Japan.svg Gamba Osaka 8
2007 Flag of Brazil.svg Mota Flag of South Korea.svg Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 7
2008 Flag of Thailand.svg Nantawat Tansopa Flag of Thailand.svg Krung Thai Bank 9
2009 Flag of Brazil.svg Leandro Flag of Japan.svg Gamba Osaka 10
2010 Flag of Brazil.svg Jose Mota Flag of South Korea.svg Suwon Samsung Bluewings 9
2011 Flag of South Korea.svg Lee Dong-gook Flag of South Korea.svg Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 9
2012 Flag of Brazil.svg Ricardo Oliveira Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Al-Jazira 12
2013 Flag of Brazil.svg Muriqui Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Guangzhou Evergrande 13
2014 Flag of Ghana.svg Asamoah Gyan Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Al-Ain 12
2015 Flag of Brazil.svg Ricardo Goulart Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Guangzhou Evergrande 8
2016 Flag of Brazil.svg Adriano Flag of South Korea.svg FC Seoul 13
2017 Flag of Syria.svg Omar Kharbin Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Hilal 10
2018 Flag of Algeria.svg Baghdad Bounedjah Flag of Qatar.svg Al-Sadd 13
2019 Flag of France.svg Bafétimbi Gomis Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Hilal 11
2020 Flag of Morocco.svg Abderrazak Hamdallah [21] Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al Nassr 7

Fair Play Award

YearClub
2007 Flag of Japan.svg Urawa Red Diamonds
2008 Flag of Japan.svg Gamba Osaka
2009 Flag of South Korea.svg Pohang Steelers
2010 Flag of South Korea.svg Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
2011 Flag of South Korea.svg Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
2012 Flag of South Korea.svg Ulsan Hyundai
2013 Flag of South Korea.svg FC Seoul
2014 Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Al-Hilal
2015 Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg Guangzhou Evergrande
2016 Flag of the United Arab Emirates.svg Al-Ain
2017 Flag of Japan.svg Urawa Red Diamonds
2018 Flag of Iran.svg Persepolis
2019 Flag of Japan.svg Urawa Red Diamonds
2020 Flag of South Korea.svg Ulsan Hyundai [20]

See also

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