Football: Changes to Asian soccer aimed at improving World Cup chances - Alex Soosay

LONDON (REUTERS) - Asian football must adapt to the increasingly competitive nature of the world game or risk being left behind, Alex Soosay, the general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said on Wednesday.

Four Asian countries - Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia - qualified for this year's World Cup finals in Brazil but none of them won a game and they all went out in the group stage.

Soosay, speaking to delegates at the Leaders in Sport Summit at Stamford Bridge, said the AFC must make changes to both its international and club competitions to spark an improvement.

"In the AFC we realise that without better competitions among member associations we will struggle to adapt to the increasing competitive nature of the global game," he said. "As such a new change is on the horizon for the AFC premier competitions. For the Asian Cup the number of teams will be increased from 16 to 24 for the 2019 edition.

"This will give more opportunity for the member associations to be part of Asia's flagship competition. The gap is closing (between Asian countries) and we are optimistic that Asian football at that level will definitely shine."

Australia host the 16th edition of the Asian Cup from Jan. 9 next year and will be looking to win it for the first time since moving from the Oceania confederation in 2006.

Soosay also outlined plans for changes to the way Asian nations qualify for the World Cup.

"With the new format, eight group winners and four second best teams from the eight groups will qualify for our final round of qualifications," he said. "Currently only 10 teams battle it out in the final round of World Cup qualifiers but then we'll have 12 teams and that will give more depth to the competition."

The AFC Champions League will also undergo a revamp, with the introduction of a new rankings system, which will mean clubs adhering to certain criteria such as proper governance and sporting integrity.

"The new system will effectively create a new dynamic for the premier club competition the AFC Champions League," Soosay added. "With the new rankings system in place, the AFC Champions League in 2015 will provide more member associations to participate in the Champions League as members ranked from one to 24 are eligible to play."

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