|HCMC FC players celebrate their goal against Singapore's Hougang United at the AFC Cup, February 25, 2020. Photo courtesy of AFC
The Asia Football Confederation (AFC) recently announced that the number of clubs in the group stage of the tournament would be increased from the current 32 to 40 next year.
Vietnam is allocated one slot in the group stage of the 2021 AFC Champions League and zero play-off slots, meaning only the 2020 V. League 1 champions will participate in the tournament.
This will mark the first time since 2016 that a Vietnamese club plays in the AFC Champions League.
In 2016 Binh Duong were grouped with Korea's Jeonbuk, Japan's FC Tokyo and China's Jiangsu Suning.
They were out early, but did leave their mark by beating then-champions Jeonbuk 3-2 at home.
Since then, no Vietnamese club has been able to advance further than the AFC Champions League play-off.
Other Southeast Asian countries also benefit from the competition's expansion. Thailand is given two group stage and two play-off slots while Malaysia and Singapore will each get one group stage slot.
Earlier this year, Ho Chi Minh City FC lost to Thailand’s Buriram United in the second qualification round of the 2020 AFC Champions League, and are now in the AFC Cup, a lower-tier tournament.
They and Than Quang Ninh are winners and runners-up in their respective groups.