Are Kedah Darul Aman, Kuala Lumpur City poised to follow Johor Darul Ta'zim in achieving AFC glory?

For the past eight years, Johor Darul Ta'zim have set the standard in Malaysian football.

They have won the Malaysia Super League every season since 2014 and have picked up two Malaysia Cups along the way.

The Southern Tigers have also reached previously unchartered territory on the Asian stage.

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Having made their AFC Champions League debut in 2019, JDT earlier this year reached the knockout round for first time ever after qualifying from a tricky group also boasting 2020 winners Ulsan Hyundai and J1 League champions Kawasaki Frontale.

It is however worth remembering that their continental success did not initially begin in the ACL but in the second-tier AFC Cup, where they became the first team from the ASEAN Zone to win the tournament back in 2015.

Which is why there is plenty of reason for Malaysian football to be optimistic as two of their other teams -- Kedah Darul Aman and Kuala Lumpur City -- both advanced to the zonal semifinals of this season's AFC Cup on Thursday.

Their progress into the knockout round certainly did not come easy.

Kedah finished in a three-way tie at the Group G summit and only advanced on superior head-to-head goal difference, while Kuala Lumpur City's berth came via being the best-ranked runners-up team after they finished second in the three-team Group H behind PSM Makassar of Indonesia.

When the ASEAN Zone semis get underway next month, Vietnam's Viettel -- who have been drawn to face KL City -- do look the slight favourites given their recent form as well as the fact they competed in the ACL just last season, while PSM -- who will meet Kedah -- do boast plenty of previous AFC Cup experience.

But there is usually not much separating clubs from these countries in individual quality, while the knockout-round nature usually means the form guide goes out the window.

And while Kedah and KL City are rivals with JDT on the domestic front, both can look to the reigning MSL champions for inspiration given their similar histories as one-time powerhouses who have had to endure a number of lean years.

Before their relatively recent rise to dominance, JDT had their fair share of years in the doldrums.

Likewise, Kedah -- back-to-back MSL champions from 2006-08 and AFC Cup quarterfinalists in that time -- were playing in Malaysia's second tier as recently as in 2015.

The Kuala Lumpur faithful have suffered for even longer -- having only returned to the top flight last year and with 1988 being the last time they could lay claim to being champions of Malaysian football.

Still, there is reason for both teams to be optimistic about the future, as well as an example they could strive to emulate.

When Aug. 19 comes around, plenty of eyes will be on JDT as they take on Japanese giants Urawa Red Diamonds in the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League.

Yet, a week or so before that, there could also be plenty for Malaysian football to shout about when Kedah and KL City both look to see off their respective opponents and make it an all-MSL ASEAN Zone final in AFC Cup 2022.