Starting from the 2024-25 season, AFC will revamp its club competition. Third tier competition will be introduced for teams from middle and low-ranked countries, while the AFC Champions League will be limited to top countries only.
AFC Champions League
The AFC Champions League itself will only have 24 participating teams, down from 40 in the current system. The major difference with the previous system is only top 6 countries from each region can participate in the competition. So from West, there are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, UAE, Uzbekistan, and Iraq. While from the East, there are Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Australia, and Malaysia.
The traditional group stage will also be replaced by Swiss system. The 24 teams will be divided into West & East group, each consists of 12 teams. Every team will play 8 matches, 4 home & 4 away in their group. After the completion of the 8 matches, all teams in the group will be ranked by their points. Top 8 teams in each group will qualify to the round of 16.
In this simulation, the top 8 in East group are Ulsan, Jeonbuk, Vissel, Frontale, Melbourne Victory, Buriram United, Shandong, and Daegu. While in the West, the top 8 are Al-Hilal, Al-Duhail, Al-Ain, Al-Nassr, Al-Sadd, Al-Ittihad, Sharjah, and Persepolis.
In the round of 16, team will be paired according to their results in the league phase. The highest-ranked team will face the lowest-ranked team in each group, the 2nd highest-ranked will face the 2nd lowest-ranked and so on. All winners from the round of 16, will qualify to the quarter-finals which a random draw will be made to determine the pairing. Traditional semi-finals and final match will follow after the quarter-finals.
Congratulations to Jeonbuk for winning the first edition of the ACL revamp, defeating Al-Hilal in the final.
2nd Tier competition
The official title for the 2nd tier competition hasn’t been announced yet, but for this simulation we will use AFC Cup as the competition name.
The 2nd tier competition will consists of team from top and middle-level countries. So Japan, Saudi Arabia will participate, but also Bahrain and Singapore. The format will resemble the old-style AFC Cup, with 32 teams divided into 8 groups. Region separation will be kept until the final.
In the West region, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, Sogdiyona, Al-Shabab, and AGMK emerge as group winners, while Gol Gohar, Al-Ramtha, Al-Wahda, and Al-Kuwait qualify as runner-up in their group.
In the East region, Bangkok United, Hanoi, Shanghai Port, and Sydney FC win their group, while Jeju United, Lion City Sailors, BG Pathum United, and Kashima Antlers also qualify as group runner-ups.
The round of 16 will be drawn with group winner facing runner-up from another group. After that, the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and final will follow the traditional system.
Shanghai Port from China win this 2nd tier competition after defeating Al-Shabab in the final. The road to the champions including wins against team from Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. So the strength in the 2nd tier competition will not be far away from the 1st tier, unlike the current AFC Cup.
3rd Tier competition
I can say that the 3rd tier competition will be like the minified version of current AFC Cup. In the current format, up to 40 teams can participate in group stage, while 20 teams only will be in the group stage of the new system. The participants also will be similar with current AFC Cup, with majority of participants come from middle-ranked countries. Low-ranked countries will find it hard to appear in the group stage.
The 20 teams will be divided into 5 groups, 3 West groups and 2 East groups. Each team will also play only 3 matches in the group stage, with the matches being held in centralized venue. From the West groups, 3 group winners and the best runner-up will qualify into the knockout stage. While from the East groups, the top-two will qualify.
Al-Ansar, Al-Jaish, and Tishreen win their group, with Ahal being the lucky runner-up to complete the knockout stage participants from the West. Indonesian duo, Bali United and Persib, will be accompanied by Phnom Penh Crown and Albirex Niigata in the East knockout stage. (note: won’t be possible in real life due to Niigata’s status as foreign club).
The region separation will be also kept in this competition until the final. Tishreen win the 3rd tier competition in this simulation, defeating Al-Jaish, Ahal, and Persib to the cup.
So the winners for the AFC club competition revamp simulation are:
ACL (1st tier) : Jeonbuk (South Korea)
2nd tier : Shanghai Port (China)
3rd tier : Tishreen (Syria)
The titleholders of ACL will be allowed to participate in the group stage of ACL next-season. The 2nd tier titleholders will also get ACL ticket for next season, but in the play-off. The 3rd tier titleholders will get direct ticket in the group stage of 2nd tier next season.
Hopefully the simulation can give you more grasp of how the competition revamp will be, and to anticipate what the revamp will offer in the future.