The second edition of the women’s elite continental competition will be the first proper tournament ever organized in expanded version.
Just a few weeks back, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced the launch of the AFC Women’s Club Championship this year.
The tournament which was first proposed in 2018 and was played for the first time in 2019 was cancelled the following year due to the pandemic. But the tournament has now made a proper and more organized return and has brought India into the landscape as well.
The first edition of the tournament was hosted by South Korea and was played among four member associations: Australia, China, Japan and South Korea. The tournament was played as a single round robin with each team facing each other once only. Nippon TV Beleza of Japan won the tournament finishing top of the table with 2 wins and a draw, earning 7 points while Jiangsu Suning of China finished runners up.
The 2021 edition will be played among eight teams which will be divided in two zones- East and West. The East zone will consist of team’s from Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Chinese Taipei, while the west will consist of teams from Uzbekistan, Iran and Jordan besides India.
Indian Women’s League winners of the 2020-21 season will play in the West zone. If the season gets cancelled, the previous season’s champions, Gokulam Kerala FC will participate in the tournament.
The confederation will expand the tournament even more in the years to come, from 12 in 2023 and 2024, to 16 in 2025, with introduction of AFC Women’s Club Competition ranking as well.
The introduction of the tournament has come in as a huge boost for Indian women’s football, which has struggled to develop at the club level. Though the birth of Indian Women’s League in 2016, gave a new life to the club football in women’s category, the lack of enthusiasm and long term success vision in the field put the prospect of advancement of the league under a huge question mark.
Moreover, despite the All India Football Federation (AIFF) putting in the effort to increase the number of teams which begin from six in the initial season in 2017 to twelve in the subsequent seasons, the teams have the least number of matches on average to play and the least duration of the league. The difference in comparison to the other leagues of Asia is gigantic. Nadeshiko League of Japan is played in three tiers consisting of 10, 10 and 12 teams respectively which lasts over a span of 9 months and each team plays an average of 25-30 matches. All other leagues in Asia, although of single tier, also lasts for months. South Korea’s WK League is played over a span of 8 months with an average of 28-32 games for each team, the league consisting of 10 teams.
Leagues of China, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar also last 4-5 months with an average of 12-20 matches. All these leagues are being played on a home and away basis. On the contrary, Indian Women’s League (IWL) is played only one legged and since the league is played in two groups, the number of matches is lowest despite having the highest number of teams among all the leagues in Asia. The league does not last even a month.
The gulf of difference in the league quality has had a huge impact on the performance of the National side, which has been unable to progress up and has dwindled down in the FIFA rankings to 57. The lack of game time and long term exposure has affected the players performance and has also to an extent decreased the enthusiasm of the fans towards the league.
The introduction of the club tournament will now give the clubs a serious aim to fight for and will also attract the enthusiasm of the fans towards the league. Moreover, it will also increase the professionalism of the club’s and will see an increased attention from stakeholders towards women’s club football. The league will also give the players more game time and high quality exposure, which will eventually help in improvement of individual performances of the players.
With the introduction of the tournament, the players who regularly play for the national team will get regular exposure to international football, which they hardly get due to dearth of friendlies for the national side.
If everything goes well, the tournament will be a boon to Indian women’s football, and fans can dream of the Blue Tigresses making it to the World Cup much sooner eventually.