AFF Suzuki Cup is all set to have two more teams from the 2018 edition, which will also no more see two countries co-hosting the Asean tournament.
The biennial tournament is moving away from the eight-team format, which has been continuously maintained since the 2007 edition. The 2018 edition will feature 10 teams and nine top-ranked countries from the Asean region will earn a direct entry into the tournament. The final spot will be determined after a play-off between the 10th and 11th-ranked Asean teams. The official announcement about the new format will be made in the coming days, according to a report in The New Paper.
In the ongoing edition, which will see Thailand and Indonesia battling for glory in a two-legged final, Cambodia bagged the final spot after winning the qualification tournament, also having Laos, Brunei and Timor-Leste, and came up with a solid show despite not being able to win a game.
Also, there will be two groups of five teams each and each team, in the group stages, will play two home and two away matches. The knockout stage format, which has two-legged semi-final and final, will be retained for the next edition as well.
The proposed new format is being embraced by the football fraternity, which includes The War Elephants' assistant coach, Steve Darby, who highlights the importance of giving the minnows more exposure playing at Asean's highest level.
2018 edition is set to have
- 10 teams in the main round.
- Two groups of five teams each.
- Each team will play two home and two away games in group stage.
- Two-legged semi-final and final.
"In every tournament, there will be big boys and minnows, and this year showed that the gap is closing. How do the minnows get better? By playing games against Asean countries, not by playing (much higher-ranked sides) South Korea in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers," Darby said, as quoted by the news daily.
The home games in the group stages of the region's biggest and respected football prize will attract bigger crowds and will see more revenue being generated. Also, former Lions defender R Sasikumar highlighted the possibility of regional football associations getting more benefits from the move.
"The Suzuki Cup is a cornerstone event for the region and, in that sense, any format is easy to accept. This isn't a groundbreaking change, it's an innovation to keep the product fresh," Sasi added.