Last week, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have accepted the withdrawals of Myanmar clubs Shan United and Hantharwady United from this year’s AFC Champions League and AFC Cup, which prompted the confederation to do some format changes in the two competitions’ upcoming editions.
While there was no official reason given behind the withdrawals of both Shan and Hantharwady, it was suspected that the current unrest in Myanmar – brought on by the 2021 arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and the subsequent coup of the country’s government by the ruling military junta – was behind the two’s absence from AFC club competitions this year.
The unrest, still ongoing until this day, saw protests and clashes erupting almost on a regular basis all over Myanmar, which caused the 2021 Myanmar National League season to be scrapped and national team reserve goalkeeper Pyae Lyan Aung to seek asylum in Japan following Myanmar’s World Cup qualifying match there. A host of Burmese stars such as Kyaw Ko Ko and Aung Thu also pulled out of national team duty due to the tensions between Myanmar citizens and the country’s military junta.
Both Shan and Hantharwady had also withdrawn from AFC club competitions back in 2021 due to both the unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to this, the AFC set about to perform some changes in the format of this year’s AFC Champions League and AFC Cup.
Australia’s second representative – either the 2020/21 A-League Men runners-up Sydney FC or either one of Central Coast Mariners or Melbourne Victory, the only remaining teams in the 2021 FFA Cup eligible for ACL qualification – receive a bye into the play-off round of the ACL qualifiers, having set to face Shan in the preliminary round. The Australian representative will face the daunting task of visiting Japan’s Vissel Kobe in their play-off match.
The AFC have also vacated Shan and Hantharwady’s spots in the AFC Cup, and are mulling the decision to allow both Cambodia’s Visakha FC and Laos’ Young Elephants to advance straight into the group stages, with the two sides supposedly set to play each other in a play-off for the final spot in the groups. This would consequentially mean that one of the three ASEAN groups in the AFC Cup will only have three teams in them.