I-League 2017: Aizawl's Champions League qualification will hand Mohun Bagan AFC Cup spot
Despite finishing last season as the I-League runners-up, Mohun Bagan could still play in the AFC Cup.
What's the story?
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) conducted the AFC Cup Draw, and Aizawl FC, the current I-League champions, have been drawn in the Group E of the competition. The draw also gives Mohun Bagan a chance of getting into the competition in case Aizawl qualify for the group stage of the AFC Champions League.
In case you didn't know...
Aizawl FC won the Hero I-League season 2017-18 in a fairytale run, becoming the first champions of the national league from North Eastern India. Their win helped them earn a spot in the AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifiers, failing which, they would get a direct entry into the AFC Cup Group Stage.
However, Mohun Bagan, last season's I-League runners-up can get the AFC Cup spot, if Aizawl FC manage to win the AFC Champions League Qualifier and go through to the group stage of the ACL.
The heart of the matter
Aizawl FC will compete in the ACL Playoff round for a spot in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. They take on Iranian club Zob Ahan in the West Region Playoffs on 30 January 2018. Zob Ahan competes in the Persian Gulf Pro League and finished fourth last season.
Mohun Bagan will be gunning for Aizawl FC to win the play-off in Asia's biggest club competition, as it will give them a chance to compete in the AFC Cup. Last year, Bengaluru FC faced Jordanian club Al-Wehdat in the preliminary round of qualification but lost out 2-1 and then competed in the AFC Cup; doing well to reach the Inter-zonal final.
Aizawl FC will take on the Iranian side Zob Ahan Isfahan FC on 30th January 2018 but there is a bit confusion in their scheduling as they are slated to play East Bengal on 29th January, just a day before the crucial ACL clash. It will be interesting to see how the AIFF accommodates the champions.
Aizawl FC did the entire country and the North East proud when they won the title under Khalid Jamil. But this season, with most of their major players having left for greener pastures, and coach Jamil now managing East Bengal, they face a herculean task in the I-League, the Asian competitions and the Mizoram Premier League at the same time.