Site Loader

Today, official account of AFC Cup tweeted this quote from Daniel McBreen, who played for South China (Hong Kong) in 2015. He said that AFC Cup is great because of all the different places you can go to.

Sadly, this is not the case anymore now. Since 2017, AFC has changed the format of the competition. Each participating team will compete in its own zone first. The champions of each zone then will meet each other in the knockout rounds to determine the AFC Cup champions. This format prevents matches between teams from different zones, and also make the competition boring. But one of the positives of the current format is you can give direct spots to nations which are relatively weak. For example: Erchim (Mongolia) in 2017, Benfica Macau in 2018, Manang Marshyangdi (Nepal) in 2019, Chao Pak Kei (Macau) in 2020, and Athletic 220 (Mongolia) in this season

So, we wonder if AFC Cup used their old format, how the competition will be?

The ‘New’ Format

We will only have 32 teams in the group stage, 16 in West and 16 in East. Two teams from each group will qualify for the round of 16. After that, the winners of the round of 16 will be playing in quarter-finals, then the semi-finals and the final.

India and Maldives will be in East region, same as pre-2017 AFC Cup. Only member associations (MA) ranked 6 or below in each region can enter AFC Cup, and only top 10 MAs (ranked 6 to 15) will have direct slots. There are 12 direct slots while the remaining 4 slots will be filled through the play-offs.

Here is the slot allocation details:

  • Ranked 6 : 1 direct slot
  • Ranked 7-8 : 2 direct slots
  • Ranked 9-15: 1 direct slot + 1 play-off slot
  • Ranked 16 or below : 1 play-off slot

The Play-offs for 2021

Four direct slots will be filled through the play-offs in each region. We will use the same draw mechanism as what AFC used for the 2021 draw. Here is our simulation for play-offs in the 2021 season:


  • PO1 : Ahal (TKM) / Dordoi (KGZ) / Al Kuwait (KUW)
  • PO2 : Al Ansar (LBN) / Shabab Al Amari (PLE) / Tribhuvan Army (NEP)
  • PO3 : Al Wahda (SYR) / Al Nasr (OMA) / SL Police (SRI)
  • PO4 : Al Muharraq (BHR) / Abahani Dhaka (BAN) / Thimphu City (BHU)


  • PO1 : Geylang International (SIN) / Tainan City (TPE) / Athletic 220 (MNG)
  • PO2 : Lee Man (HKG) / Chantabouly (LAO) / Kasuka (BRU)
  • PO3 : Eagles (MDV) / Boeung Ket (CAM) / Lalenok United (TLS)
  • PO4 : Hanthawady United (MYA) / Persipura Jayapura (IDN)

You can see that not all teams qualified directly in real life, also qualified directly in this format. In total, 11 teams that originally are in group stage, have to go through the play-offs first.

The Groups for 2021

The four play-off winners will join twelve other teams in the group stage. We will also use the same draw mechanism as what AFC used for the 2021 draw. Here is our simulation for the group stage in the 2021 season:


Ravshan (TJK)Al Salt (JOR)AGMK (UZB)Altyn Asyr (TKM)
Tishreen (SYR)Al Hidd (BHR)Bashundara Kings (BAN)Al Ahed (LBN)
Markaz Balata (PLE)Khujand (TJK)Al Faisaly (JOR)Al Seeb (OMA)
PO1 WinnersPO3 WinnersPO2 WinnersPO4 Winners


Kaya Iloilo (PHI)Kedah Darul Aman (MAS)ATK Mohun Bagan (IND)Hanoi (VIE)
Eastern (HKG)Lion City Sailors (SIN)Shan United (MYA)Maziya (MDV)
Terengganu (MAS)Bengaluru (IND)Saigon (VIE)Bali United (IDN)
PO4 WinnersPO2 WinnersPO3 WinnersPO1 Winners

Each group will consists of teams from different zones. Teams from South and East Zone can meet teams from other zones, instead of meet the same nations every year. For example: Bashundara Kings from Bangladesh is grouped with AGMK (Uzbekistan) and Al Faisaly (Jordan). In the East, Eastern from Hong Kong will meet Kaya Iloilo (Philippines) and Terengganu (Malaysia). This old but new competition format will ensure that each season is not just a repeat of previous season, but there will be a different story each year.

So, what’s your take on this? Comment below to give your opinion.

Post Author: Admin

2 Replies to “What If : AFC Cup 2021 used Pre-2017 format”

  1. Why does AFC or do you put Bangladesh in the West always? If we consider Delhi and Dhaka, Delhi is without any doubt more Western than Dhaka. If we compare between Male and Dhaka, only Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta are closer to Male. And Dhaka on average is 587 Km nearer to East than Male.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *