A decision made by FIFA just one day before Christmas Day has put a stop to Malaysia U-19's dream.
On Thursday, December 24, FIFA announced that it has cancelled the 2021 editions of the men’s U-20 and U-17 World Cup competitions.
In a statement issued through its website, the world football governing body explained that the decision was made due to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"...it became clear that the global situation has failed to normalise to a sufficient level to address the challenges associated with hosting both tournaments, including the feasibility of the relevant qualification pathways."
In 2019, Australian head coach Brad Maloney-led Malaysia U-19 took one step closer towards realising their World Cup dream, when they qualified for the 2020 AFC U-19 Championship finals. Maloney's charges include 2020 Goal NxGn lister Luqman Hakim, who is currently with Belgian top-tier side KV Kortrijk.Sports Regime
Luqman Hakim. Photo by Sports Regime
The Young Tigers would have needed to reach the semi-finals of the AFC finals at the very least, in order to book their World Cup spot. The 2020 AFC U-19 Championship finals had earlier been scheduled to be played in Uzbekistan in October 2020, before it was then postponed to March 2021 due to the pandemic. Maloney's charges have been drawn in Group D alongside Qatar, Tajikistan and Yemen, and the tournament is still set to take place.
For Luqman and his U-19 teammates, who mostly are the first batch of Mokhtar Dahari Academy graduates, they now have no chance of qualifying for a junior World Cup as FIFA does not organise any U-23 or U-22 World Cup tournaments.
Malaysia's neighbour and regional rival Indonesia meanwhile have been assured of their World Cup spot. Originally the planned host of the 2021 U-20 World Cup, with Peru hosting the U-17 tournament, FIFA has decided that the two countries will host the next editions instead, in 2023.
Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are the other Southeast Asian nations that have also qualified for the 2020 AFC U-19 Championship finals.