AFF Suzuki Cup 2016
Photo by Blogarama

FIFA world ranking points will be offered for the first time at AFF Suzuki Cup 2016.

The 11th edition of the Southeast Asian tournament, which will kick off on Nov. 19, will escalate in prestige after being recognised by FIFA as a Category A-ranked tournament.

Other proposed changes will also see the AFF championship ditching its qualifiers, with the two groups in the tournament itself to be decided on home and away basis.

The regional showcase, to be co-hosted by Myanmar and Philippines, was previously considered a friendly competition by the world body, and only offered ranking points on the ASEAN stage.

But with crowd and TV viewing figures rapidly rising over the years, the biennial affair will finally be granted global status.

“We recently got declaration from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that the AFF Cup now offers international ranking points,” AFF General Secretary Datuk Seri Azzuddin Ahmad told ESPN FC.

“We had got our 11 member associations to make an appeal to the AFC. Through their backing and support, the AFF Cup has now risen in prestige.

“This tournament has been offering encouraging figures not only in this region, but throughout the world. It is our premier tournament, our gold bank to market comprehensively.”

AFF Suzuki Cup 2016
Photo by The Star Online

In 2010, a record 192 million TV viewers tuned in to watch the tournament, which saw Malaysia clinch their maiden trophy after a 4-2 aggregate triumph over Indonesia, under the reign of Datuk K. Rajagobal.

That two-legged final saw an average of 15 million Indonesians viewers alone.

It was more than double the figures of the highest-rated 2010 FIFA World Cup match in the football-mad nation, which recently returned from a year-long international ban.

In the 2014 edition, almost five million Malaysians watched the event on Pay TV.

One of the reasons for the rise is due to AFF’s commercial partnerships with international sports marketing agency, Lagardere Sports, and Japanese auto-company Suzuki, which came on board as official sponsor in 2008.

AFF is in discussions to continue with Lagadere for upcoming editions.

Once an agreement is reached, the plan is to eliminate the four-nation qualifiers, won last month by Cambodia.

“There will be only two groups, and teams will play each other home and away. The countries will be chosen based on their ranking points and by drawing lots. This move is more attractive for commercial value,” said Azzuddin, adding the proposal should be finalised by December.

The former FAM general secretary and national player also promised big things from Myanmar and Philippines, who are making their AFF hosting debuts.

“Myanmar is a football crazy nation, so we are sure there will be an encouraging turnout for games. Philippines, meanwhile, are an improving nation with a few dual citizenship players,” he said.

“Both countries have fulfilled the necessary requirements, based on our feedback, as early as late 2014. We have had three stages of inspection and infrastructure, and we are happy with the outcome.”

The Philippines Sports Stadium and Rizal Memorial Stadium will host Group A, which consists of Philippines, defending champions Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

Matches in Group B, which pit together Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam, will be solely be played at the Thuwunna YTC Stadium in Yangon.

Defending champions Thailand have won four AFF titles, the same as 2012 winners, Singapore.

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