FAM ponder options after Pahang reject AFC Cup slot for 2018
Pahang FA have stunned Malaysian football by turning down the opportunity to take Kedah's place in the 2018 AFC Cup.
This week, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) announced that FA Cup winners Kedah were ineligible as they had failed to submit the necessary documentation on time.
Malaysia Super League (MSL) and FA Cup runners up Pahang were expected to take their place. But the club have released a statement revealing that they had already turned down an invitation from the FAM as they intended to focus on the MSL next year.
This led to speculation that the MSL's third-placed team Felda United may be invited to take Malaysia's third spot alongside champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) and Selangor
However, according to AFC regulations, it may not be possible for the FAM to nominate another team following Pahang's refusal to take part.
According to article 12.12 of the AFC Entry Manual, "If an eligible club refuses to enter an AFC Competition, despite being licensed and meeting the sporting criteria, the slot allocated to its MA [Member Association] shall be annulled, regardless of whether it is a direct slot or playoff slot."
It is also the case that, like Kedah, Felda and last year's fifth-placed side Perak do not have AFC licences, which means that PKNS -- or their sister club Selangor -- may be the next option in the event that the AFC article 12.12 does not deny Malaysia their third slot.
Whatever the outcome, it is a hugely embarrassing episode for Malaysian football, with one of the country's proudest moments on the Asian stage coming when JDT lifted the AFC Cup in 2015.
If MSL sides have ambitions to eventual compete in the AFC Champions League, the AFC Cup is an excellent testing ground.
Pahang's decision suggests a lack of ambition on the club's part, and the inability of other clubs to obtain the necessary AFC licences points to organisational issues that the FAM must address.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK