Despite being the Asian Champions League's most successful nation, South Korea has lost one of its four automatic places for the group stages.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) released the breakdown of direct entrants for the 2012 edition with South Korea, winners of three of the last nine tournaments, reduced to three and Qatar's direct allocation doubled to four, three weeks after Al Sadd became the first Qatari winners of the competition.
The move sees a third of Qatar's 12-team Stars League given berths in 2012, at the expense of Iran and Saudi Arabia, who have also lost places.
The AFC released a statement, which read: "The Executive Committee based their decision on inspection reports by the AFC Special Mission Team and on the results of assessments from the AFC Professional Football Project carried out throughout 2011, which revealed only Japan, Qatar and Uzbekistan fully met the AFC Champions League criteria."
That criteria is based on a ratings system that examines league administration, marketing, attendances, stadia and promotion/relegation among other factors; unlike the UEFA Champions League's co-efficient, which is based on displays on the pitch, the AFC focuses on performance off the field.
The slots will be revised next year after the 2012 tournament, but the announcement has raised plenty of eyebrows around Asia.
"The decision is a bit strange," ESPNsoccernet's Asian expert John Duerden said. "But it reflects the fact that most nations in the AFC don't have access to the Asian Champions League - the second tier nations go to the AFC Cup.
"It is still crazy, though, that Qatar have four spots while South Korea, easily the most successful country in the competition, and China do not."