Bengaluru FC bag vacant play-off spot for AFC Cup

Bengaluru FC have been awarded an AFC Cup play-off spot for the 2020-21 season, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) confirmed on Thursday. The Blues will join Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20’s group-stage toppers FC Goa and the new joint entity of ATK Mohun Bagan as India’s representatives in continental competitions.

“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,” an AIFF statement read.

While FC Goa secured their berth in the group stage of the AFC Champions League after emerging as Hero ISL’s group stage toppers last season, Hero I-League champions Mohun Bagan were to gain an AFC Cup group stage entry and the playoff spot for the AFC Cup was supposed to go to the Hero ISL champions.

However, ATK merging with Mohun Bagan meant that one of the continental slots were left vacant, leading to AIFF handing the additional AFC Cup slot to Bengaluru FC, who finished third in the league stage of Hero ISL 2019-20. The Blues’ inclusion means that three Hero ISL clubs – ATK Mohun Bagan, FC Goa and Bengaluru FC – will participate in AFC club competitions in the upcoming season.

Bengaluru have a rich history of producing their best in continental competitions even though the 2020 edition of the tournament saw them crash out on penalties in the qualification playoffs. In 2016, the Blues became the first Indian side to make it to the final of the AFC Cup but fell short in the last hurdle of the competition.

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