One million mark for Asian flagship

The Asian Football Confederation said on Monday that its flagship club competition, the AFC Champions League, attracted more than one million spectators during the group stages - a new record.

A total of 1,037,702 fans packed stadiums across Asia to watch 94 group phase encounters as 32 teams slugged it out to make the round of 16. This year's milestone overhauled the numbers achieved in the five previous editions of the competition.

"The numbers show that Asian teams are popular in the continent and their game has attained the professionalism required in this modern era," said AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam. "I hope that the knockout stages of the competition will throw up interesting battles and the spectators will keep going to the stadiums to cheer their favourite teams."

The round of 16 kicks off on Wednesday with west zone matches. East zone matches are played on 24 June. The tournament has been expanded this year from 28 to 32 teams with stricter participation criteria imposed in an effort to raise the level of play.

At stake is $20 million in prizemoney, dwarfing the $4 million available for the 2008 event as the AFC looks to push the competition to another level.