The Asian football calendar for 2021 began to take shape Monday as the Asian Football Confederation announced updates to the competition schedule for the year.
The AFC Champions League -- the continent's premier club competition -- and the second-tier AFC Cup will go ahead but with changes their usual formats. The situation was not positive, however, for the AFC U-19 and U-16 Championship as both were cancelled.
What impact could this have on Asian football this year?
ACL could again prosper with centralised venues
While the ACL used to see teams travel across the continent to do play, the group stage will now be held in centralised venues, with the West Zone action taking place from April 14 to 30 while the East Zone teams will face off between April 21 to May. 7.
While limiting travel and quarantine periods amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was a prime motive, the AFC were likely also been swayed by how successful last season concluded when Qatar hosted the tournament.
The centralised venue and the need to condense the fixtures, which meant that teams often played matches every three days, added a tournament feel to the competition akin to a FIFA World Cup or AFC Asian Cup, and garnered largely positive feedback.
The AFC have not announced a similar arrangement for the knockout rounds and could yet revert to teams hosting matches in their own countries, but it would not be the worse thing if the latter stages are also played in a single host city.
Abridged AFC Cup group stage could add to excitement
The AFC Cup group stage will also feature centralised venues, but the major difference is that the latter will now feature only three match-days with teams playing each other just once rather than twice.
While that means less football will be played, it could add to the drama and tension.
Teams initially had enough matches to recover from a slow start and still qualify for the knockout stages, but that luxury will no longer be afforded and the stakes will be high right from the start.
The AFC Cup's return is important to many countries throughout Asia as it offers emerging programs a platform for exposure.
Shame to lose AFC U-19s and U-16s but common sense prevails
The AFC U-19 and U-16 Championship were among four tournaments cancelled by the continental governing body.
Both competitions had been postponed from last year and it was difficult to justify proceeding in 2021 -- considering the age of the players.
FIFA set a precedent by calling off the U-20 and U-17 World Cups originally scheduled for this year. Both AFC U-19 and U-16 Championships served as qualifying tournaments.
It is still a shame that Asia's brightest young talents will not get to showcase their abilities and potentially earn a move abroad.
Japan's Takefusa Kubo and Hiroki Abe were both still playing in their homeland when they featured at the 2018 U-19 Championship but have since been signed by Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.
Meanwhile, Indonesian midfield Witan Sulaeman caught the eye sufficiently at the same tournament to earn himself a move to Europe with Serbian outfit Radnik Surdulica.
Given the age restrictions of these tournaments, some of the current players could have missed a real opportunity due to the cancellation of the competitions.