As per a press release issued by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Bengaluru FC, who finished third in the Indian Super League (ISL) league phase, have been awarded with the AFC Cup play-off spot which was supposed to go to the ISL champions.
ATK FC, who finished as the title winners this season, were up for the play-off spot, but having merged with Mohun Bagan, they had the chance of grabbing the direct AFC Cup spot meant for the winners of the I-League. Many had expected Chennaiyin FC, the ISL runners up, to be awarded with the third Asian spot, i.e., the AFC Cup play-off spot but eventually, it went to BFC.
It is understood that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) wanted to take into account league standings to award the third continental spot rather than the play-off performance.
In the statement, the AIFF said: “The following Indian clubs will participate in the AFC Club competitions in 2021. FC Goa as the winner of the Hero ISL league phase for season 2019-20 as direct entrant in the group stage of AFC Champions League.
ATK Mohun Bagan (after their agreement to form a joint venture) as a direct entrant in the group stage of AFC Cup on virtue of being winners of the Hero I-League 2019-20.
The AFC Cup play-off slot goes to Bengaluru FC who finished third in the Hero ISL league phase in 2019-20. ATK, who finished runners-up in the league phase of the Hero ISL 2019-20, as per their joint venture with Mohun Bagan, qualify automatically for the direct slot for the AFC Cup”.
Bengaluru have enjoyed their ups and downs in the AFC Cup, having delivered both the best and the worst performances by any Indian club in the tournament. In 2016, they went all the way to the last hurdle before losing narrowly to Iraqi team Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. Quite in contrast, earlier this year, they lost to Maziya on penalties in the qualification playoffs of the 2020 edition of the tournament and crashed out.