Will next edition of AFF Cup be included in FIFA calendar?

KUALA LUMPUR – Will the next edition of the prestigious ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup finally be included in the FIFA calendar after nearly three decades since its introduction in 1996?

This is the question many are asking after Gianni Infantino, the president of world football governing body FIFA, shared his view that the AFF Cup should be held during the FIFA calendar as reported by the international media when he attended the return leg of the 2022 AFF Cup final between Thailand and Vietnam in Pathum Thani, Thailand on Monday (Jan 16).

Infantino was also reported to have said that should there be a collaboration, the AFF Cup would be able to further develop through such significant changes.

Although the AFF Cup began offering ranking points since the 2016 edition, it is still not in the FIFA calendar and this has resulted in many clubs in the region hesitating to release their players to represent their respective national teams.

Local football observer Datuk Dr Pekan Ramli feels that the time has come for the AFF Cup to be included in the FIFA calendar the benefit of all the competing nations.

“It will the highest honour for ASEAN football if FIFA were to include it in their calendar because that will, first of all, offer higher ranking points for the teams in the region.

“Secondly, all the countries will take the AFF Cup seriously and there will be no problem for all the teams to field their best players,” he said when contacted by Bernama.

Although the schedule of participating teams will be more compact in the year the AFF Cup is held, he, however, feels that there shouldn’t be a problem for it to be implemented for the 2024 edition.

He said the AFF should decide on the tournament dates much earlier and find the best possible time based on the league schedules of the competiting countries.

Former national team head coach B. Sathianathan feels that the existing packed schedule might make it impossible for the AFF Cup to be included in the FIFA calendar.

“The competition calendar is getting more packed. Players all over the world are already making noise as they too need to rest. I am not saying that it (AFF Cup) cannot be included in the FIFA calendar, but what about the existing World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying rounds and tournaments that are already in the calendar?

“There are actually many regional football championships, not just the AFF Cup. Are these other tournaments also being played during the FIFA calendar? To me, it’s better for the AFF Cup to be set aside for Under-23 squads,” said the 64-year-old coach.

However, he said the idea of listing the  AFF Cup in the FIFA calendar is still acceptable.

For the record, 10 countries competed in the 2022 AFF Cup which saw Thailand emerging as champions after edging Vietnam 3-2 on aggregate in the final while Malaysia were eliminated in the semi-finals.

After 14 editions, Thailand are the most successful team, having won the AFF Cup seven times, followed by Singapore (four times), Vietnam (twice) and Malaysia once in 2010. – Bernama