By finishing top of the ISL league stage, Goa are guaranteed a spot in next season's AFC Champions League. There are still two more continental slots up for grabs for Indians clubs. While the I-League winners will get direct entry to the AFC Cup group stage, the eventual ISL winners will get a spot in the AFC Cup group stage qualifying playoffs. What complicates matters this season is that Mohun Bagan, who are almost certain to win the I-League this season, are set to join ISL next season, that too in the form of a merger with ATK, one of the four teams featuring in the ISL playoffs starting Saturday.
So does it mean ISL gets all three slots? Who gets the ISL winner's slot if Goa go on to win the playoffs as well? Here are the answer to those questions and all other possible scenarios.
What if Goa win the ISL playoffs?
Since Goa are already confirmed a slot in the continent's premiere competition, the ISL AFC Cup slot will go to the team that's finished second in the league stage, which in this case would be ATK.
What if ATK win the ISL and Mohun Bagan win the I-League?
Since the two teams will have merged next season, they can get only one slot. ESPN understands that if the merged entity haven't gone through the I-League slot, then the runners-up of the I-League will get that AFC Cup slot.
This raises another complicated question: if ATK and Mohun Bagan were to both qualify separately, they would obviously prefer to take the I-League spot since that guarantees direct entry into the group stages. However, it may not be up to them to pick one.
What happens to the other slot? Does it go to yet another ISL club or do the runners-up of the I-League take that one?
ESPN is awaiting AIFF's response to this query.
What does all this mean for the ISL playoffs?
This makes the playoffs stage more meaningful than ever. ATK, Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC all have something to play for other than the trophy.
What does all this mean for the final rounds of the I-League?
With Mohun Bagan running away at the top of the league, it had appeared that the fight for the places below them would be merely academic. However, with this updated scenario, a second-place finish becomes ever more important.
Thanks to the irregular fixture patterns of the I-League, it is impossible to say who are the favourites for finishing second right now, but with just seven points separating 10th place from second, it should make for a cracking finish to the season.