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Friday, September 15, 2017

When losing strategically helps the motherland

Yes, I grew up under the Communist regime and I can still remember the patriotic songs we had to sing about the motherland and our beloved leader. However, these songs were always about winning for the motherland, never about losing. Yet in the world of the AFC Cup, it's better to lose sometimes.

I was looking on Wednesday over the AFC MA ranking and I was surprised by the inroads Tajikistan are making due to Istiklol's run in the AFC Cup. I realized that Tajikistan could climb to 7th in the East should Istiklol win their remaining matches.

Tajikistan have 8.67 points for this season, while India (also in the inter-zone play-off final through Bengaluru) have only 5.48.  Why? Because of what I perceive to be a flaw in the new AFC Cup format and I finally found the time today to write about it.

Three AFC zones (East, Central and South) have only 1 group with only the group winner advancing.

Let's take an imaginary scenario. Two teams from Tajikistan qualify for the AFC Cup, one directly to the group stage (we'll call it Red), the other (Blue) has to go through the play-offs. Remember, AFC Cup points are divided by 3 and points gathered starting from the group stage are divided again by the number of teams reaching the group stage.

Blue wins all their 4 preliminary matches and, with the bonus points for entry, gathers 0.3 + 4 * 0.3 = 1.5 points.

Because Central Asia has only one group assigned to it, Red and Blue will of course be in it. Red wins all 6 matches and advances. Blue wins 4. Total points in group stage = (6+4)*3 + 3 = 30.

Red gets 3 extra points for advancing.

So far Tajikistan's points are 1.5/3 + (30 + 3)/6 = 6.

Red goes on to win the AFC Cup with 6 wins (yes, it's an imaginary scenario). They get 6 * 4.8 = 28.8 points.

Tajikistan's final points for the season would be: 1.5/3 + (30 + 3 + 28.8)/6 = 10.8.

Now, let's go back to the preliminaries and assume Blue fails in the final round, winning one match, but losing the other by a larger goal difference. It only gathers 1.2 points.

No change for Red.

Final points for Tajikistan: 1.2/3 + (6*3 + 3 + 6*4.8)/3 = 17.

So Tajikistan would be losing 6.2 points because of their initial success - i.e. Blue reaching the group stage. To match those 10.8 points, Red doesn't have to go all the way. It only needs to get two wins in the inter-zonal semifinal.

So going back to the real life, but still adding some "what if" flavour. Khosilot where eliminated in the AFC Cup play-offs because they managed only 1 point vs. Dordoi (Kyrgyz Republic). Let's imagine they won handsomely at home and then went 4-1-1 in the group stage. Istilkol remains unchanged. Tajikistan's points for 2017 would have been 1.05/3 + (5 * 3 + 4 * 3 + 1 + 1 + 3 + 4.8 + 1.6)/6 = 6.75. Almost 2 points less then the current value! Hence the title of the post.

Also, India's total points for this season would have been higher had Mohun Bagan been eliminated in the play-offs. AFC is not rewarding success in these three zones.

There must be some sort of conclusion here at the end, so here goes: I think it would be an improvement to divide the points by the number of teams that can actually advance to the next stage - in case of East, Central and South, points should be divided by 1.

About me:

Christian, husband, father x 3, programmer, Romanian. Started the blog in March 2007. Quit in April 2018. You can find me on LinkedIn.


  1. however dividing by 1 gives a huge bonus to the MA which has 2 teams which seems almost overwhelmingly not fair to the remaining MAs so better option will be to divide it by 1.5 so it will neither be unfair like current scenario nor over the top advantage fro MA with 2 teams, let me know what you think

    1. This is also an option, why not? It's up to AFC to solve the problem.

  2. I think it should divide to number of teams participating; you can see Thailand with very high point because 2 teams lost in p/o round.

  3. There are some inconsistencies in the way AFC are computing the ranking. Wrote to AFC, waiting for an answer.

  4. They should jut do it as UEFA does - divide by the total number of teams participating. This way losing is never better.