Group stage teams confirmed for an expanded Asian Champions League


The 2021 Asian Champions League will be the first-ever to be competed by 40 teams between the two regions (East and West) which has opened the door to eventually involve teams at the group stage from added countries. 

A return for Hong Kong Premier League Sides 

As we mainly cover nations from the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF), the only team returning to Champions League football from our region are Hong Kong's Kitchee. Hong Kong sides previously lost their places in the group stage due to poor performances, but seem to have done enough in the AFC Cup (Asia's equivalent to the Europa League) to warrant a return in an expanded competition. 

This is good news for the SAR (Special Administrative Region) because, without an expanded format, they looked like they would be struggling to find a way back into Asia's top table. 

It's likely that they will find themselves in the tournament as 4th seeds, meaning that they'll still find it tough to get those wins needed for the coefficient points, which means sides from other nations such as Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and North Korea, and similar developing footballing nations mainly based in South East Asia could easily oust them from the competition again. 

More countries getting a direct route to the group stage will benefit the competition

Further countries getting a direct route to the group stage can only benefit the competition, but it will take time for the smaller nations, if they are ever going to raise their level to compete with sides from China, South Korea, Japan, and Australia. 

I hope that the AFC can stick to this extended format, even if it receives criticism about one-sided games or anything along those lines. Teams, especially from South-East Asia have shown that they are capable of raising their game to defeat the big sides, which is exciting for the competition. Not only do they raise their game though, but the overall level in South East Asia is greatly improving year on year, and a more competitive Asian Champions League can only help this to develop more when they're facing regular high-level competition. 

We only hope Hong Kong can also raise its level like South East Asia has done since gaining spots at Asia's top club competition, because if sides from the country fail to survive in an expanded format, then they're going to struggle to find another reprieve. 

The West Zone sides are shown below:

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