SEOUL (Reuters) -- The South Korean top flight has lost one of its four automatic places for the group stages of the Asian Champions League despite being the tournament's most successful nation.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) released the breakdown of direct entrants for the 2012 edition late on Thursday with K-League clubs, winners of three of the last nine tournaments, guaranteed only three places.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have also lost places, while Qatar's direct allocation doubled to four, giving a third of their 12-team Stars League berths in 2012.

Al Sadd became the first Qatari winners of Asia's premier club tournament when they overcame South Korea's Jeonbuk in the final earlier this month and their success is likely to have helped sway the decision.

Korean clubs Pohang Steelers and Seongnam Ilhwa had won the two previous tournaments with three K-League sides reaching the quarter-finals this year, proving how strong they are in Asia.

The AFC said the decisions had been based after assessments by various bodies that deemed only Japan (four slots), Qatar and Uzbekistan (two slots) fully met their entry criteria.

The slots will revised next year after the 2012 tournament the AFC said.

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