KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The AFC Champions League received a huge boost Tuesday with prize money for next season's revamped tournament massively increased to 14 million dollars.
Asia's top club competition will be expanded from 28 to 32 teams in 2009, but with stricter criteria for participation in an effort to raise standards.
Tokuaki Suzuki, deputy chief of the AFC's Professional League Project, said the extra money on offer would provide clubs with the motivation to meet the new requirements to compete.
"The new budget means there is much, much more revenue for clubs participating in the tournament," Suzuki said at an AFC managers seminar here.
"This will give clubs the incentive to be more professional so they meet the requirements to take part in the competition."
The total budget for 2009 is 20 million dollars, dwarfing the 4.0 million available for this year's event.
Of that, 70 percent is dedicated to prize money and incentives, with the eventual winners taking home 1.5 million dollars plus bonuses from earlier rounds.
With a victory in the group stages worth 40,000 dollars, a club is able to make up to 2.25 million dollars if they win all their matches.
"This means that even if a team cannot qualify for the round of 16, they still have an incentive to do well in the group matches," said Suzuki.
The AFC is attempting to make football in the region more professional and has laid down tough new rules for entry into the 2009 Champions League.
Leagues wishing to take part have had to satisfy the governing body that they meet certain standards regarding team affairs, attendances, marketing, stadiums, and media arrangements.
So far only 11 countries have made the grade, with just one -- Japan's J-League -- satisfying all criteria.
Mohamad Reza Saket, managing director of Iran's top club Sepahan, lauded the move to fully commercialise the Asian showpiece.
"It definitely motivates all the clubs to put in more efforts," said Saket, whose side lost in the final last year to Japan's Urawa Reds.
"The players, coaches and whoever else is involved can benefit from the prizes. Anyone with common sense knows that success now pays and this will unite all behind a club's efforts.
"There will be no dead match from now on. You come to win even if it is your last group match and you have no hope of qualifying for the next round."
Hirotoshi Nitta, managing director of Urawa Reds, said Japanese clubs would play a central role in the success of the new AFC Champions League.
"J-League clubs have a central and key role to contribute to the improvement of Asian football," he told reporters.
"The J-League has been a pace-setter in Asia and we (the clubs) can share our successful experience with others."
The final of this year's event will be held next month and features Australia's Adelaide United and Japan's Gamba Osaka.
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