The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is all set to conduct the Group Stage draws for the 2021 edition of the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup 2021 on Wednesday, January 27. The Champions League has now been expanded from 32 to 40 clubs, with eight teams qualifying from the qualification stage.
Among the new clubs poised to make their maiden Group Stage entry in the AFC Champions League are Pro League champions Al Wehdat, India’s FC Goa and two-time AFC Cup runners-up FC Istiklol from Tajikistan.
The 40 clubs will be divided into 10 groups consisting of four teams each at the draw. The first five groups categorised under A to E will comprise teams from the Western Region. While the remaining five F to J will form the Eastern Region. FC Goa will be among the Western Region groups.
FC Goa will script history by becoming the first ever Indian club to play in the ACF Champions League, which is considered as the continent’s top club football competition. The Indian Super League (ISL) club FC Goa earned their entry by finishing at the top in the 2019-20 group phase.
Two other Indian football clubs – Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan – are also in the mix to play in the top two Asian club footballing competitions this year.
ATK Mohun Bagan will play in the AFC Cup main draw. They earned a spot through Mohun Bagan’s I-League 2019-20 wins before merging with ATK. However, The Kolkata giants will be in Group F – the only group reserved especially for clubs from the South Asian Zone. Bangladesh’s Bashundhara Kings and Maldivian side Maziya are the other two confirmed clubs in the group.
ISL side Bengaluru FC will compete for the open fourth slot in the South Asian Zone Qualifying play-offs. The former ISL champions are in line to secure the spot through the qualifiers route. Bengaluru were allowed their spot in the AFC Cup 2021 qualifiers due to their third-place finish in the ISL 2019-20 league phase. However, in order to make it to the main event, the Blues will need to play through the qualifying rounds which are scheduled between April-May, 2021. The draws will be held virtually from the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Live streaming of the AFC Cup 2021 Group Stage draw will be available on the confederation’s YouTube channel – The AFC Hub - from 12:00 PM IST (Indian Standard Time) on January 27. The AFC Champions League 2021 Group Stage draw will be live streamed on the same channel from 2:00 PM IST onwards.