SINGAPORE - Singapore's leading football club will get the chance to test their mettle at another level when the Asean Club Championship (ACC), organised and santioned by the Asean Football Federation (AFF), kicks off in the second half of next year.
The AFF confirmed the creation of the new annual competition - which is backed by Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation - in a press statement yesterday.
Three years in the making, the ACC will feature 12 domestic champions or Cup winners from AFF member associations, excluding Australia. Teams are likely to be drawn into two groups of six as they play home-and-away round-robin matches, before the top two of each group advance to the semi-finals to fight for a place in the final.
It is understood that commercial partners have already been secured and the total prize money will be more than US$1 million (S$1.36 million). Each club will receive a participation fee, as well as escalating prize money as they progress through the tournament.
The AFF also hinted that the ACC winners could take up one of the three slots allocated for Asian teams at the Fifa Club World Cup when the latter expands to a 24-team competition in 2021.
AFF president Khiev Sameth said: "The prospect of playing in the expanded Fifa Club World Cup is enticing and will translate to, among other things, greater investment by leagues and clubs in the region thus contributing to the further growth of the football ecosystem in South East Asia."
By virtue of being the top local team in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), as well as Singapore Cup winners, Tampines Rovers look set to be the Republic's representatives in the ACC next year.
Tampines coach Gavin Lee said: "It is a step in the right direction. If teams like Thai champions Chiangrai United and Malaysian champions Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) - those who are playing in the AFC Champions League - are involved, the level of competition will be very high.
"If we do take part, it will be very interesting and challenging. It will be a good platform for our players to show what they can do.
"The possibility of the ACC winners entering the Fifa Club World Cup and taking on Europe and South American's best is a fantastic opportunity for football in our region, and gives SPL teams something to aspire to, but we can only take one step at a time and do our best with what we have."
Singapore and JDT skipper Hariss Harun also welcomed the news, saying: "It will be a competitive and interesting tournament that will increase interest in Asean football. If the winners get to play in the Fifa Club World Cup, that would be a great opportunity for an Asean club to play at the highest level."
But he urged the organisers to work out a fixture list that does not lead to a pile-up. However, Sameth said there would be "no conflict in scheduling with the domestic leagues, Fifa and AFC fixtures including that of the expanded AFC Champions League".
Looking at the bigger picture, Sameth felt the introduction of the ACC would raise the standard of the national teams and enhance the profiles of the clubs as well as leagues in the region, and added: "The ACC will also help clubs improve their financial standing, promote sports tourism and enhance the football experience of the 650 million football supporters in our region."