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Only in the CSL: Champions League’s A-Changin’

Were they celebrating too soon in Shenyang?

This post actually should be “Only in the AFC” as for once the Chinese Super League walks away without blame and instead a whole heap of blame falls on the shoulders of the AFC.  The Asian Football Confederation (“AFC”), who is in charge of the Asian Champions League (“ACL”), met last week to decide a number of things, including the status of the Champions League next year.

It’s been a tough week for Liaoning.  Originally, the club thought by fighting and scrapping to the 3rd position in the Chinese Super League, they’d secured themselves Champions League football for next season.  Unfortunately, when the AFC started meeting on the 17th, there were rumblings that because of China’s lowered FIFA ranking, the country’s 4 ACL spots would become 3.5.

This was a disheartening prospect, but the club’s fears were quickly satiated a few days later when on the 21st the AFC decided to continue allowing China 4 ACL spots for another year.  Despite the media reporting this as the AFC’s “final decision”, it was only the organization’s decision for two days as on the 23rd of November the official and final decision was handed down, China would only have 3 full spots in the 2011 Champions League and Liaoning would have to brave qualifying to make it into the group stage.

What makes things all the more idiotic is the AFC rule that says it’s Liaoning that has to go into the qualifying stage.  Instead of leaving it up to the domestic federation to choose who goes through qualifying (not that I can be sure the CFA would make the right decision), the AFC gives a free pass to the domestic cup winner and makes the team that finished 3rd (or 2nd, depending on seeds) go through qualifying.  That’s all well and good if the team had to go through an intense cup run, but Tianjin won 3 matches to secure the CFA Cup, a minor feat when compared to Liaoning’s fight through an entire season.

Liaoning is now considering removing themselves from the ACL, they don’t want to bother with qualifying and fear that if by the slim chance they fail to qualify, the AFC Cup would be a massive money drain on the club.  Indeed, this is a general problem in Asia.  Unlike in Europe, there’s very little money for the clubs who compete in the Champions League and it often turns into an expense and a distraction from the domestic schedule.  The fans pay it minimal attention and the players merely tolerate it.  We’ll see if Liaoning sticks to its guns or if the CFA steps in to convince them otherwise (the more likely result).

For those interested in Asian Champions League news, the draw will take place on December 6th.  The club’s that Beijing, Tianjin, and Guangzhou can be paired with are below:

Kashiwa Reysol (Japan)

Kashima Antlers (Japan)

Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

Gamba Osaka (Japan)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (South Korea)

Ulsan Hyundai Horang FC (South Korea)

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC (South Korea)

Brisbane Roar FC (Australia)

Central Coast Mariners FC (Australia)

TBA (Thailand)

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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