In a development that can hit India hard, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Wednesday announced the scraping of AFC Challenge Cup through which the country qualified for the Asian Cup in 2011.
In a regional shake-up, the AFC said that next month’s Challenge Cup in Maldives will be the last. The winner of the AFC Challenge Cup, a tournament meant for second rung teams in Asian countries, automatically qualifies for the Asian Cup.
India had won the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in New Delhi to book a berth for the 2011 Asian Cup in Doha.
Though AFC also decided on an expansion of the flagship Asian Cup from 16 to 24 teams from 2019 onwards, it is unlikely to benefit India as it will have to compete in a tough qualifying round. The 2015 AFC Asian Cup will be held in Australia.
“The 2019 Asian Cup will have 24 teams but next month’s Challenge Cup in the Maldives will be the last,” the AFC said in a statement following an executive committee meeting. Preliminary qualifying for the Asian Cup and World Cup will also be combined, the statement said.
Teams will be divided among eight groups with the pool winners and four second-placed sides reaching both the Asian Cup and the final World Cup qualifiers.
The next 24 best teams will be split into six groups of four each to battle it out for the remaining Asian Cup spots, the AFC said. India is currently ranked 145th in FIFA charts and 25th among Asian countries.