The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed that Malaysia will have one automatic qualifying spot for the AFC Champions League in 2019.
While Malaysia may currently be 13th in the AFC’s Member Association rankings, the ACL is split into East and West zones and the Southeast Asian nation are currently ranked 6th in the former.
As such, from 2019, they will have one direct entrant to the Champions League group stage in addition to a playoff spot.
At present, Malaysia Super Leagues vie only for one playoff spot that sees them enter in Preliminary Round 2, which remains a tough route to qualification.
Malaysia gain one automatic spot and another play-off spot for the 2019 @TheAFCCL edition.
— AFC (@theafcdotcom) December 12, 2017
Despite being Malaysian football’s dominant club for the past four years, it will still take something special from Johor Darul Ta’zim if they are the reach the group stage next season, given they have to beat both Thailand’s Muangthong United and then a yet-to-be-determined Japanese side.
Nonetheless, that will be a thing of the past in 12 months, providing greater incentive for Malaysia’s top sides to challenge for the Super League crown.
On the other hand, Malaysia’s rise also means Hong Kong will lose their automatic spot after 2018 given they have fallen 0.266 points behind in 7th spot in the East.
This past season, South China were Hong Kong’s representatives in Asian football’s premier club competition, while Kitchee have been drawn into Group E for next year and will take on South Korean champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, along with two other playoff winners.