The FIFA ranking is really making a comeback in Asia. About 4 years ago, AFC chose to seed the final draw for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup using previous tournament performance. Australia were at that time 19th in the World and 1st in AFC, yet were placed in the 2nd pot, based on their (not so impressive) 2007 AFC Asian Cup showing. For those who don't remember, they were eliminated in the quarter-finals. Asked by (most likely annoyed) Australian journalists, here's what Ali Al-Hamdani, AFC spokesman, had to say: "We see no reason to follow FIFA rankings".
My, how times have changed. AFC somehow managed to find a reason and used the much maligned FIFA rankings to seed the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final draw.
Wait, there's more. AFC pulled off a very interesting move regarding club competitions. But, first some background.
In Europe, every time there's a FIFA match window, you'll hear club managers complaining about the need to release their players for meaningless national team matches. I assume it's similar in Asia. However, managers of Asian clubs might change their mind. AFC have two club competitions - the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup. In order to determine the number of slots for each country, they've devised something similar to the UEFA coefficient, but with a twist. 70% is based on performance in the aforementioned competitions over the last 4 years, while 30% is based on the FIFA ranking. Thus, in order to get more slots or play a weaker opponent in the playoffs, you have to hope clubs from your own country perform well in the AFC CL and AFC Cup and your national team climbs in the FIFA ranking.
The criteria of awarding slots is below (source: Wikipedia)
The top 24 member associations (MAs) as per the AFC rankings are eligible to receive direct slots in the AFC Champions League, as long as they fulfill the AFC Champions League criteria.
In both the East and West zones, there are a total of 12 direct slots in the group stage, with the 4 remaining slots filled through play-offs.
The top six MAs in both the East and West zones get direct slots in the group stage, while the remaining MAs get play-off slots:
The first- and second-ranked MAs each get three direct slots and one play-off slot.
The third- and fourth-ranked MAs each get two direct slots and two play-off slots.
The fifth-ranked MAs each get one direct slot and two play-off slots.
The sixth-ranked MAs each get one direct slot and one play-off slot.
The seventh- to twelfth-ranked MAs each get one play-off slot.
The maximum number of slots for each MA is one-third of the total number of clubs in the top division (e.g., Australia can only get a maximum of three total slots as there are only nine Australia-based clubs in the A-League).
The top 24 member associations (MAs) as per the AFC rankings which do not receive direct slots in the AFC Champions League are eligible to participate in the AFC Cup group stage (including losers of the AFC Champions League qualifying play-off).
The MAs ranked 25 to 32 are eligible to participate in the AFC Cup group stage, and the associations ranked 33 to 47 are eligible to participate in the AFC Cup qualifying play-off.
Here's the AFC MA ranking they've used to determine the slot allocations for the 2015 and 2016 competitions: "AFC MA Ranking as at 3 November 2014" (pdf file)
For the national team performance part, AFC used the October 2014 FIFA ranking.
The allocation of slots was determined on 28 November 2014, during the meeting of the AFC Competitions Committee. The most recent FIFA ranking was published a day before. What would have happened if AFC used the November ranking instead?
Kuwait would have climbed from 7th to 6th in the West region and would have received for the first time after 7 years a direct group stage slot. Kuwaiti clubs have been dominating the AFC Cup. Since 2009, there has always been team from Kuwait in the final of the AFC Cup (two in 2013) and they won 4 of the last 6 finals.
Maldives would have replaced India in the top 24 and New Radiant SC would have received a play-off spot.
Remember the recommended friendly impact?
Some of the AFC federations could have improved their slot allocations and/or the seeding in the play-off draw by playing and winning against the recommended opponents.
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India would have overtaken Malaysia by defeating Aruba and Bengalaru would have played at home vs. Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim in the first preliminary round of the AFC Champions League. In the current setup they will play away in Malaysia.
Singapore would have overtaken Malaysia by defeating Antigua and Barbuda. Warriors would have played away to Johor Darul Ta'zim instead of Myanmar's Yadanarbon. Frankly, I don't know if that would have been better.
Palestine would have climbed in the top 24 by defeating Antigua and Barbuda and would have been eligible for a AFC Champions League play-off spot, but I'm not sure any of the Palestinian club would have received the licence.
Same goes for Maldives - with a win against Aruba they would climbed in the top 24 and would have been eligible for a AFC Champions League play-off spot.
AFC have determined the slot allocations for 2015 and 2016, but I'll revisit this in October/November 2015.