Three clubs from the Indian Super League will take part in the continental tournaments next season.
It is decided that the league-stage winners of 2019-20 Indian Super League would be awarded an AFC Champions League (ACL) group stage spot and the runners-up of the league-stage would go on to feature in the playoffs of the AFC Cup. Accordingly, FC Goa, ATK-Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC will all play at the continental level in 2021.
Earlier, in a special dispensation for I-League clubs, the winners were set to be awarded direct entry into the Cup group stage. The conclusion of the ISL 2019-20 saw FC Goa gain direct entry into the group stage of the Champions League as winners of the league-phase and become the first Indian club to qualify for the group-stage of the competition.
Interestingly, with ATK and Mohun Bagan agreeing to form a joint venture from the following season, a spot had opened up for another Indian club to assume the playoffs position in the AFC Cup considering both were winners in their respective leagues. Further, it has now been made official that the AFC Cup playoffs spot would be given to Bengaluru FC who finished third in the Hero ISL league phase in 2019-20.
An official statement from the AIFF read: The following Indian clubs will participate in the Asian Football Confederation’s Club competitions in 2021-
“FC Goa as the winner of the Hero ISL league phase for season 2019-20 as direct entrant in the group stage of AFC Champions League.”
“ATK Mohun Bagan (after their agreement to form a joint venture) as a direct entrant in the group stage of AFC Cup on virtue of being winners of the Hero I-League 2019-20.”
“The AFC Cup play-off slot goes to Bengaluru FC who finished third in the Hero ISL league phase in 2019-20. ATK, who finished runners-up in the league phase of the Hero ISL 2019-20, as per their joint venture with Mohun Bagan, qualify automatically for the direct slot for the AFC Cup.”
It is now certain that Bengaluru FC would be the third club to participate in the Cup playoffs in 2021. That is in contradiction to what some reports suggested that Chennaiyin FC will get the spot instead.
Meanwhile, the Blues are India’s most successful club in the continental stage after reaching the finals of the AFC Cup back in 2016. This season, they were one of the two clubs representing India in the AFC Cup in 2020 after emerging victorious in the 2018-19 Indian Super League. However, they failed to make it to the group stage of the competition after bowing out to Maziya S&RC in the playoffs.