Only Japan, Korea, Australia in Champions League?

The Asian Football Confederation insists that, from 2009, only teams from professional leagues will be eligible to enter the AFC Champions League, the region's elite event. If the rule were imposed immediately, only teams from three countries, Australia, Japan and South Korea, would be eligible, AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam told Reuters. "What we are looking for is 32 teams playing in top competition. Even if those 32 teams come from just six or seven countries, that is still the way to become successful."

Bin Hammam's oft-stated aim is for Asian clubs to be able to compete with the biggest names in Europe on the playing pitch and in terms of financial clout to attract the best players. "Television and sponsors only pay for top products, that is a reality," he told reporters in Kulala Lumpur.

He said Asian football authorities must also boost the sport by guarding against problems such as government interference, as well as internal issues such as doping, match-fixing and fielding over-aged players in youth competitions.

"There are signs that the values of our game are being threatened by people in our own midst," he added, as reported by Associated Press, without identifying any country. "Unfortunately, some of us have tried to twist the rules and regulations of football for short-term glory and success."

The AFC is conducting a study into professionalism in Asian soccer, chaired by Japanese Football Association president Saburo Kawabuchi who told delegates to the AFC Congress that it is vital to reformat the Champions League to make it more attractive.

"The level of football in Asia has risen tremendously in the last few years but unfortunately we are still not close enough to the top level in the world yet. The FIFA World Cup 2006 is a good example as not a single Asian team advanced from the group stage, that is excluding Australia, a newly-joined country. We need to drastically develop the clubs which will in turn directly impact on the development of the national team for a meaningful breakthrough," he said.

"This involves raising the level of competition. The new format will see the most powerful Asian clubs compete. The point is to create a system which is linked to the top level of the world. The dreams of clubs, players and supporters will be linked to the world."