Australia's "great start" in AFC Champions League

Seamus O'Brien, the head of Singapore-based World Sport Group, the intimate commercial paretner of the Asian Football Confederation, is delighted with the debut performances of Australia's A-League clubs, Sydney FC and Adelaide United, in the AFC Champions League and has no doubt Australia will ultimately become a key market as the ACL becomes bigger, richer, and more prestigious. "Given this is Australia's first taste of real international club football, I would say it's been a great start. Sydney are still in with a chance, and Adelaide have probably missed out, which proves the competition is not a walk in the park. But from our perspective, and the AFC's perspective, we're delighted. The crowds in Australia have stacked up well, the teams have been competitive, and the general interest has been good," he told Michael Cockerill of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Although just three years old in its current format, the ACL will undergo a major overhaul in 2009. Among the likely outcomes are an expansion from 28 to 32 teams, the introduction of a round of 16, doubling the prizemoney for the winning team to US$1 million and, significantly for Australian and Japanese clubs, a relaxation of the entry deadlines. Because the A-League and Japan's Emperor's Cup overlap the calendar year, both countries currently are forced to enter teams from the previous season's competitions.

"Within a generation, say 20 years, Asia will be clearly established as the second biggest club market in the world behind Europe and, over time, there's no reason why it can't become even bigger than Europe. It depends on how much you want to dream. If football delivers what the market wants, then the market in Asia is big enough to pay for it," O'Brien said.

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