2012 AFC Challenge Cup: New Format
The Asian Football Confederation has decided to enhance the format of the second tier of Asian national team competitions, the AFC Challenge Cup. From the next edition onwards in 2012 all 22 eligible nations would have to play in the qualifiers with the top three from the last edition and the pre-set hosts not getting a direct entry. This means that defending champions North Korea, runners-up Turkmenistan and third-placed Tajikistan will have to play the qualifiers with all other nations willing to take part.
If more than 16 countries enter the tournament, then the lowest ranked nations eligible will have to play in a home-and-away playoff to qualify for the qualifiers proper. The new qualifiers will be played with four groups of four teams each, but it hasn’t been decided yet if it will be played at one venue or in a home-and-away format. The top two teams will qualify for the tournament proper which will continue to be an eight team affair. And only once it is known which eight teams qualify for the tournament proper, then these nations can bid to host the AFC Challenge Cup proper.
The prize for the champions remains the same for the 2012 and 2014 editions of the AFC Challenge Cup, this time a place in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. Our own India (2008) and North Korea (2010) qualified from the last couple of editions for the upcoming 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
The new format means more matches for the nations in the second tier of Asian national teams. I would say a welcome move as for India it means testing itself against similar quality opposition from central and south-east Asia. It would give our national team a number of competitive matches before hopefully qualifying for the final rounds. And also teams can’t take their place in the finals for granted. A repeat of 2008 in 2012 or 2014 would be needed for India to once more ensure its place in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. And that would be necessary as part of our strive to improve on the continental level in Asia.