Battling North Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam: A-League slides down Asia’s rankings

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The A-League is at risk of sliding rapidly down the rankings of Asian domestic competitions but Australian clubs’ participation in future Asian Champions League campaigns is set to be safeguarded by the expansion of the tournament.

Australia’s top football competition will have just one direct qualification spot for the next two seasons after the A-League slumped to 11th in the overall Asian rankings and fifth in the East Asian region that determines Champions League qualification, with Australia on track to slide even lower this year. A history of poor performances from A-League clubs in Asian football saw Australia fall below Thailand in the league rankings and the country is now at risk of being leapfrogged by North Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Sydney FC were dejected after their ACL loss to Yokohama on Wednesday.Credit:Getty

Rankings are based on clubs’ performances in Asian competitions over a four-year cycle and the latest hasn’t been kind for Australian clubs. A-League clubs won just 10 of 42 games between 2016 and 2018 and failed to win one of 12 games in 2019. Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory all lost their first games of 2020 and should they remain as lean on points this year, Australia could fall to seventh in the East Asian rankings and lose its automatic qualification spot for the Asian Champions League by 2023 under the current format.

However, a proposed change of the competition structure from 32 teams to 42 next year is set to come to the aid of the A-League’s future participation in the premier competition of Asian club football. According to a Football Federation Australia spokesman, the Asian Football Confederation has expressed its commitment to expanding the competition by eight teams as early as 2021 to allow clubs from lower-ranked nations to participate in the Champions League. The AFC was contacted for comment.

In late November last year, the AFC flagged its intention to open the competition to 40 teams, with clubs participating from up to 20 different countries. That remains on track and will coincide with the start of the AFC’s record $5.3 billion, eight-year broadcast deal with DDMC and Fortis that could transform the Asian Champions League.

The new broadcast deal is set to more than double the funding of that competition, providing a huge increases in participation funds, travel subsidies, win bonuses and winners’ prizemoney to competing clubs. While the distributions are yet to be calculated, FFA sources suggest Asian club competitions account for more than half of the AFC’s annual sanctioned games, potentially giving the Champions League a significant slice of the pie.

It means the A-League won’t likely miss out on being part of the Asian Champions League’s rapid transformation to a lucrative club competition despite the downward trajectory of Australian performances.

Based on average points amassed from 2016 to 2019, A-League clubs have dropped by 64 per cent. Teams from Malaysia and the Philippines, ranked sixth and seventh in East Asia respectively, have performed steadily over that period.

The big movers are eighth-placed North Korea, whose teams have improved their average points tally by 222 per cent between 2017 and 2019while ninth-ranked Vietnam increased its club average by 168 per cent between 2016 and 2019.

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