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What are the criteria for a Lebanese club to play in the Champions League?

As per the club competition slot allocation for the 2021-2022 Asian Champions League, Lebanon will have one team enter in the qualifying round, as they rank 11th in West Asia. But how does a team acquire the slot, and how many qualifying games should the team play and win in order to qualify for Asia’s elite club competition?

In a regular season, the team who wins the Lebanese Premier League (LPL) gets the nod to the playoff spot. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the league’s cancellation this season, the team to qualify for the competition, if any, still isn’t confirmed.

Said team would then have to win two preliminary rounds and a playoff round to become one of the eight teams to enter the competition’s group stages using the playoff route.

What makes a team eligible to qualify for the ACL?

In order to qualify, the team must be the winner of the LPL. If the winner fails to meet the criteria we will discuss later, its substitute is chosen based on the following:

The club must be one of the following – from most to least important:

  • Winner of the domestic cup
  • Runner-up of the domestic top division league
  • Third place of the domestic top division league

If the domestic cup winner meets the league criteria:

if the cup winner finishes first in the league, it gets the first seed and second place gets the second seed;

if the cup winner finishes second in the league, it gets the second seed and the first-placed team gets the first seed;

if the cup winner ranks third in the league, it gets the second seed, with the second-placed team getting the third seed if applicable.

Moreover, only the teams who finish in the top-half of the table are available to meet the sporting criteria.

Hence, if a league has 12 teams, only the top six are eligible to participate in AFC club competitions on the basis of their league rank.

However, if only ten teams out of the twelve complete the season (for example), the top six teams are still the only teams eligible to participate in AFC club competitions on the basis of their league position.

If there was no domestic top division league season and/or cups preceding the AFC club competition, the AFC General Secretariat would decide which domestic sporting season, if any, the sporting criteria will apply to.

Furthermore, there are some rules in place for the domestic league. A team should play at least 27 games, including the cup matches, and the season’s duration should be at least 8 months long. The league’s games format should be played home and away with a maximum of two teams sharing the same stadium.

Also, there should be:

  • Education programs for referees
  • An appointed referee assessor at matches
  • An appointed match commissioner at matches
  • Competition regulations
  • National regulations for the status and transfer of players
  • National or league security guidelines
  • An appointed security officer at matches
  • An accurate measurement of attendance and the figure’s announcement during matches
  • A highest decision-making body of the league, whose members are relevant stakeholders
  • A full-time dedicated official who oversees operational matters for the league
  • A dedicated management structure for the league;
  • An audited profits & losses statement and balance sheet for the league
  • An independent auditor for the league
  • Centralized marketing for media rights
  • Media opportunity to cover matches
  • Frequently broadcasting matches

With regard to stadia, there has to be at least one AFC-approved stadium within the clubs in the national top division league, since Lebanon is ranked 7-12 in the west. When it comes to logistics, visa and accommodation:

  • Visa should be easy to obtain
  • Daily international flights within the respective geographical area (in Lebanon’s case it’s West Asia)
  • Simplified airport procedure
  • Easy immigration/customs processes
  • Well-established local transportation infrastructure and official hotels with suitable standards.

However, in Lebanon, this season the league will only consist of 17 games. This number grows to become 27 if a team reaches the final of the Elite and FA Cup. In theory, a maximum of 2 clubs can meet these criteria which will cause a setback to the Lebanese clubs’ opportunity to even register for the ACL.

Let’s say Team A is the league winner in Lebanon, Team B is the runner-up/cup winner and Team C came in third place, and they are all eligible according to the criteria. Team A will play in the ACL playoffs, if they win and advance to the group stages, Team B and Team C will both play in the AFC cup. However, if Team A doesn’t advance to the group stages, they will enter the AFC cup with Team B, while Team C misses out completely.

Since Lebanon are closing the gap with the 10th ranked team, which is Turkmenistan, we can expect a Lebanese team to get direct qualification to the ACL, hopefully sooner rather than later.


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