In­dian Su­per League teams el­i­gi­ble for AFC Cup

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Mum­bai, In­dia – The Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion (AFC), Asia's foot­ball gov­ern­ing body, has dealt a ma­jor boost to the In­dian Su­per League (ISL) by rul­ing that its fran­chise-based teams will be el­i­gi­ble for the AFC Cup from next year.

The AFC said in a state­ment late on Tues­day that the win­ners of the glitzy tour­na­ment, which is backed by In­dia's rich­est man Mukesh Am­bani, will go into the con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion's qual­i­fy­ing round.

It said it had acted on a rec­om­men­da­tion from the All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (AIFF), which is grap­pling with how best to ac­com­mo­date two ri­val leagues - the ISL and the older I-League.

"The Com­mit­tee ap­proved that the I-League cham­pi­ons will play in the AFC Cham­pi­ons League play­off round and the ISL cham­pion will play in the AFC Cup pre­lim­i­nary stage... from 2018," read the state­ment.

The ISL, whose city-based fran­chise for­mat apes cricket's hugely suc­cess­ful In­dian Pre­mier League (IPL), has grown in pop­u­lar­ity since it was launched in 2014, out­strip­ping the ten year old I-League in broad­cast rat­ings.

It is adding two new teams to this year's event, bring­ing the num­ber of clubs to ten, in­clud­ing one side which has de­fected from the I-League. Ben­galuru FC, two-time I-League win­ners, and Jamshed­pur will be the new fran­chises when the next sea­son kicks off in Oc­to­ber.

They are backed by ma­jor com­pa­nies - the Jin­dal South West con­glom­er­ate and Tata Steel re­spec­tively. There have long been re­ports of a pos­si­ble merger be­tween the two com­pe­ti­tions but the AIFF has played down such talk in re­cent months.

The AFC said in its state­ment that the ISL and the I-League will run si­mul­ta­ne­ously for six or seven months in 2017 and 2018 and that as a "short-term bridg­ing so­lu­tion" it was giv­ing "spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion" to the ISL.

Italy's Alessan­dro Del Piero and French striker Ni­co­las Anelka are among the vet­eran for­mer stars to have played in the ISL.

A file photo of a match be­tween Atletico de Kolkata and Chen­naiyin FC dur­ing the 2016-17 In­dian Su­per League sea­son

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