ACL History hinges on Malaysia matching Hong Kong's results

Johor Southern Tigers
Malaysia will need to match Hong Kong's results in November to stay in important sixth spot in the AFC club competition ranking to a direct ACL berth.

When the latest FIFA rankings update was released on Monday, Malaysia dropped four spots from 166 in the previous month to 170 in October. Given the way the national team has gone, any drop in rankings isn't particularly fresh news but it's impact on the possibility of a Malaysian team participating in the Asian Champions League (ACL) for the first time is massive.

Malaysia are currently ranked sixth in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club competition ranking in the East Zone. South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and Thailand occupied the top five places in September's ranking. The sixth spot at the end of November this calendar year, will provide a confirmed spot in the ACL for the 2019 and 2020 season. 

Being sixth also guarantees an additional play-off spot on top of the one direct slot. Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) have been the one Malaysian team participating in the play-off over the last three seasons. As champions of the 2017 Super League, JDT will also be one of the teams in the ACL play-off next season.

In the September AFC ranking, Malaysia amassed 29.807 points, ahead of Hong Kong who are on 29.105 points. That is expected to change after Hong Kong gained 23 points in the FIFA ranking as opposed to Malaysia dropping 16 points. 

The AFC ranking takes into account a weight of 90% for the performance of club teams in the last four years at the AFC club competitions. With neither Malaysia nor Hong Kong having any active teams in the latter stages of the AFC Cup or ACL this season, that impact on any ranking change isn't likely to come from here.

The balance 10% comes from the FIFA rankings and that is the one which Malaysia are in danger of losing out. When the October AFC rankings is released, Malaysia is expected to have reduced points, approximately at 29.621 while Hong Kong's points total is expected to hit approximately 29.371. Which means in just one month, the gap will be reduced from 0.702 to 0.250.

Malaysia have fixtures against North Korea in the coming month, the last round of meaningful international matches before the final AFC ranking is known. Should the postponed fixture be also fitted into the November international break, that means Malaysia will have two matches to influence the numbers, the same as Hong Kong.

Hong Kong themselves will be playing Lebanon in their Asian Cup qualifiers, with another friendly against Bahrain already planned. 

It goes without saying that if Malaysia proceed to beat North Korea, then it wouldn't matter what Hong Kong does. Or if Hong Kong lose both their matches, then they are unlikely to gain enough points to overtake Malaysia.

The way the rankings are calculated, the friendly matches offer far less points than a competitive Asian Cup qualifier fixture. As such, should Hong Kong only beat Bahrain in the friendly and fail to win against Lebanon, Malaysia could still hold onto the coveted sixth spot.

Next month's tie against North Korea is already one of massive importance as it will define Malaysia's path to the 2019 Asian Cup but it is also one that will have a far more significant bearing on seeing a Malaysian team participating in the AFC Champions League for the first time.

Given how dominant JDT have been in the Super League and threatens to continue to be, the Southern Tigers will be keeping a keen eye on Malaysia's result in the upcoming month.