As the dust from the 2020 Liga Super Malaysia season settled down, the country’s footballing scene geared themselves up for yet another dose of competition – the 2020 Malaysia Cup. 15 teams consisting of the top 9 teams of the Liga Super and the top 5 teams of the 2020 Liga Premier Malaysia will compete in a single knockout competition to decide the winners of the 94th edition of the competition, and with the 2020 Malaysia FA Cup being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the winners of this year’s Malaysia Cup will earn a spot in the 2021 AFC Cup group stage.
Initially there were 16 teams due to participate in this year’s Malaysia Cup, however Liga Super side Sabah FA were excluded from the competition due to their inability to attain permission to leave the state of Sabah, which has been placed into a COVID-19 enforced lockdown by the Malaysian authorities. In fact, Sabah were also handed a 3-0 loss for their final Liga Super game against UiTM FC, with the match being forfeited due to the spike of COVID-19 cases within Sabah preventing Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto’s men from leaving the region.
Thus the draw for the first round on Sunday only involved 15 teams, with 14 of them being based within Peninsular Malaysia, with the first round matches due to be played out on November 6th, 7th, and 8th. Defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim, who will split their squad into two to participate in both this competition and the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League group stages, were handed a relatively easy tie at home against Liga Premier side Kuching FC, the only other Borneo-based side remaining in the competition. The winners of the tie will take on newly promoted Kuala Lumpur FA, who were given a bye to the next round due to Sabah’s exclusion.
The Klang Valley area was also being subjected to a COVID-19 enforced movement restriction order, meaning that both UiTM and Selangor FA would have to take on their first round opponents outside the region. UiTM were due to take on former Malaysian football greats TRW Kelantan FC at the UiTM Stadium in Shah Alam, but due to the rising COVID-19 cases within the Klang Valley region, the university side are considering hosting their opponents at the Manjung Stadium in the state of Perak. Selangor, on the other hand, had chosen Melaka United’s Hang Jebat Stadium, where they will face off against the stadium’s owners in the first round.
Last year’s beaten finalists Kedah FA will take on Pahang FA at the Darul Aman Stadium in Alor Setar, with the match being the repeat of last year’s epic semifinal that saw Kedah advancing on away goals after an 8-8 aggregate draw. Another all-Liga Super tie saw Terengganu FC taking on Petaling Jaya City at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Kuala Terengganu, while Perak FA take on Liga Premier side Kelantan United at the Perak Stadium in Ipoh.
Last but not least, newly crowned Liga Premier champions Penang FA will take on FELDA United at the City Stadium in George Town, with the latter possibly embarking in their last competitive tournament following their expulsion from the M-League.
FELDA, UKM expelled from the M-League
Prior to the draw for the first round of this year’s Malaysia Cup, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) announced on Saturday that they have expelled both FELDA United and UKM FC from the M-League next season, adding more drama to the former’s already tumultuous ownership saga that has started since the tail-end of the recently concluded 2020 league season.
The FAM felt that the financial report submitted by FELDA’s new backers weren’t feasible enough to sustain the team for a year-long campaign, with the same concerns being the reason behind UKM’s new investors’ financial report being rejected as well. Both FELDA and UKM had completed their privatization process as requirements to participate in the 2021 M-League season, however both the Federal Land Development Authority and the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (Malaysia National University) have refused to back their teams further after the privatization process was completed, forcing the two teams to scramble in search of new investors for the 2021 season. And with the new investors being found, both FELDA and UKM were required to undergo the privatization process again, which they had failed.
FAM secretary general Stuart Ramalingam said that the association had to take drastic action to avoid further problems.
“FAM takes this process seriously and we have given them the opportunity to get new investors on board to ensure that the welfare of both players and team officials were taken care of,” said Stuart, as quoted from The Star, “We have to make this decision to avoid cases of unpaid wages from happening again.”
FELDA were relegated out of the Liga Super after finishing in 11th place in the 2020 season, while UKM, the third university side to participate in the top two tiers of Malaysian football after UiTM and the now disbanded USM FC, finished 9th in the recently concluded Liga Premier campaign, failing to qualify for the 2020 Malaysia Cup in the process.
And while both the FAM and the Malaysian Football League (MFL) are still undecided on whether to make the 2021 Liga Premier season a 10-team league or retain its usual 12-team format, both FELDA and UKM have vowed to fight against the FAM’s decision towards them, with the two determined to join next season’s Liga Premier season even though the association have suggested them to restart from the third tier Liga M3 instead.