Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are undoubtedly the top three Indian football sides playing in the I-League at the moment. Rumours have also done the rounds that if one fine day, the I-League merges with the Indian Super League, these three sides will be making it to the top tier of Indian football.
These three sides can also play together in the Asian competition this coming season, thanks to the recent change in format of the AFC Cup. Starting next year, the clubs will be divided into 5 zones, namely West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and ASEAN.
According to Fox Sports Asia, each Zone has direct slots and slots allocated via play-offs.
West Asia Zone : 9 direct/3 from play-offs = 12 teams (Three groups)
ASEAN Zone : 9 direct/3 from play-offs = 12 teams (Three groups)
Central Asia Zone : 3 direct/1 from play-offs = 4 teams (One group)
East Asia Zone : 3 direct/1 from play-offs = 4 teams (One group)
South Asia Zone : 3 direct/1 from play-offs = 4 teams (One group)
India fall under the South Asia zone and they are thus grouped alongside football teams from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan.
The Mariners, who came second in the I-League this year, will take on Sri Lanka's Colombo FC in the preliminary round of the AFC Cup 2017 qualifying play-off over two legs on January 31 and February 7, respectively.
On account of a win, Bagan play the winner of Thimphu City FC and Club Valencia of Maldives over two legs in the playoff round on February 21 and February 28 respectively.
If the Indian football side come out of flying colours, they seal berth in the Group E of AFC Cup 2017, alongside Abahani Dhaka FC, Maziya and Bengaluru FC.
Bengaluru FC and East Bengal scenario
The I-League champions and the AFC Cup 2016 runners-up take on Jordan's Al Wehdat SC in the preliminary round 2 fixture of the AFC Champions League 2017 qualifying playoff on January 31.
If the Indian football side wins, they take on UAE's Al Wahda FC in the playoff round, scheduled for February 7.
Should Bengaluru FC win and make it to the AFCCL group stages, East Bengal take their place in the AFC Cup 2017 Group E alongside Mohun Bagan.