Gokulam Kerala Women were the latest to face that fate.
The AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup are the most prestigious club tournaments in Asia. India were given a direct slot in the AFC Champions League in 2019 when the number of teams was expanded from 32 to 40. In the women’s section as well, Gokulam Kerala last participated in the AFC Club Championships in 2020 after winning the IWL League.
There have been controversies where teams have been eliminated from AFC competitions due to non-footballing reasons. Let’s take a look at five such instances.
5. Three Iranian Clubs barred from participating in the AFC Champions League 2022
Three giant clubs from Iran — Persepolis, Esteghlal and Gol Gohar — were barred from competing in the tournament after failing to complete the required licensing criteria on time.
Persepolis were the 2020 finalists, who initially played the group stages in Goa. They had a good run throughout the tournament but fell short in the finals. Esteghlal, on the other hand, were two-time Asian champions.
It is worth mentioning that new licensing rules had come into effect on July 29, 2022. This should also be an eye-opener for other clubs as they shouldn’t take the licensing criteria easy and provide AFC with the apt licensing.
4. China’s Jiangsu FC withdraw due to financial constraints
Jiangsu FC, formerly called Suning FC, became the champions of the Chinese Super League in 2020. As a result, they qualified for the AFC Champions League. However, they ceased operations in just over a month – that came as a total shocker.
We have seen in the past how Chinese club teams have been successful in bringing in top International players like Paulinho, Oscar, Hulk etc by paying them a hefty sum of money, the highest in Asia. In such a scenario, a title-winning team not participating in the continental championship looks a little weird. Following a financial collapse, the club withdrew from the ACL 2022.
3. AFC Disqualifies AL Hilal in 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic had struck the team from Saudi Arabia badly. They couldn’t field a team of 13 players required to be in a matchday squad as regulated by AFC conditions. Al Hilal had 31 Covid-infected players (along with the Romanian coach) and only 11 players including three goalkeepers were available to participate.
Tournament rules state that at least 13 players should be made available in the matchday squad. Al Hilal had already qualified for the knockout games. However, as they couldn’t field 13 players for their final group stage match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai of UAE, they were asked to forfeit the match. The record four-time ACL champions also bowed out of the tournament as a result.
This was a very unfortunate situation for both the organizers and the team as the pandemic was at its peak and many were infected. Had the game been postponed, it would have hampered the schedule of other teams. Also, the league was conducted after multiple postponements, leading to AFC forfeiting AL Hilal FC.
2. Al Nasr vs Sepahan FC
Al Nasr, the Dubai-based club, lost their group stage opener against Sepahan FC 3-0 in the 2013 Champions League. For the major part of the game, AL Nasr played with 10 men, after goalkeeper Mousa was sent off.
Controversy crept in five minutes into the second half after a show of distasteful behaviour from Sukaj. He retrieved the ball that his side had returned to Nasr, who had let it run out of play so that one of their injured players could get treatment. The move led to home goalkeeper Mousa’s sending off.
Mousa’s was a last-man foul on Sukaj, an act born out of sheer frustration and desperation. The foul earned Sepahan a penalty as well which Omid Zarandini rolled limply for substitute goalkeeper Abdullah Mohammed to collect.
Al Nasr had won a penalty in the latter half of the second half, but couldn’t convert that as well with the goalkeeper guessing it correctly and denying AL Nasr a solitary goal. As it turned out, the defeat and the red card had a big effect on Al Nasr who bowed out of the group stages without a single win to their name.
1. Gokulam Kerala FC
By virtue of winning the Indian Women’s League (IWL), Gokulam Kerala FC qualified for the AFC Women’s Champions League 2022. This was the second time the Malabarians Eves were set to participate in the tournament following last year’s third-place finish.
The management had bolstered the squad with fine foreign additions. Meanwhile, the team led by coach Priya PV had prepared in full swing for the tournament. Gokulam Kerala are the only Indian female side to qualify for the tournament.
With their first match scheduled for August 23, Gokulam Kerala departed for Tashkent late on August 15. However, in a terrible turn of fate, FIFA decided to ban the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on the same evening for not complying with its regulations despite several warnings.
Gokulam Kerala women’s team had already landed in Uzbekistan by then for the AFC Club Championship. But if any association gets banned by FIFA, clubs cannot participate in any continental competitions. Resultingly, Gokulam Kerala had to walk out of the tournament without playing a single game.
GKFC are one of the only teams from India to prioritise women’s football – a rarity in India. Not only this, the Malabarians had visited foreign clubs for recruitment, especially for the AFC Champions League and had also roped in good African players to bolster their squad. These are some of the rare occasions in which we get to see clubs going outside India and recruiting players for the women’s club teams.