So the AFC Cup will be played on Saturday between Istiklol of Tajikistan and Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim. Because they were the best teams this season and deserving of a place in the final? No, not exactly.
Last month FIFA, engulfed in an unprecedented corruption crisis, decided to ban Kuwait for government interference so Al-Qadsia, who beat JDT 3-1 in the first leg of their semi-final, and Al-Kuwait, who were 4-0 up against Istiklol, were kicked out of the competition through no fault of their own.
Where to start?
The government interference rule in Asia perhaps? Where the royal families in the Middle East all tend to have representation on the local football associations, while other AFC members like Singapore have politicians in charge. Lets not even start with North Korea.
We could wonder why Indonesia were given years of warnings before being punished and Kuwait a matter of weeks, but lets not start that one today.
Instead, I want to ask why defending champions Al-Qadsia and 2009, 2012 and 2013 winners Al-Kuwait were kicked out for government policy yet last year Vietnamese side Vissai Ninh Binh were allowed to continue through to the quarter-finals despite 11 of their players admitting to police they tried to fix a match earlier in the competition against Kelantan of Malaysia.
Ninh Binh did release all of the players found guilty and restarted in the lower leagues in Vietnam after withdrawing from the top flight but it did seem an odd decision to allow them continue in the AFC Cup after such a scandal which involved so many at the club. I’m sure the innocent players of Al-Qadsia and Al-Kuwait might wonder why that was the case as they sit and watch this weekend’s final, a match they should probably be contesting but for matters out of their control.
All the same, good luck to Istiklol and JDT in the final this weekend – they have certainly already enjoyed plenty of it.