What next for Kuala Lumpur City after winning AFC Cup 2022 ASEAN Zone?

Paulo Josue was Kuala Lumpur City's two-goal hero in Wednesday's 5-2 victory over PSM Makassar in the 2022 AFC Cup ASEAN Zone final. Asian Football Confederation

At the very least, Kuala Lumpur City have regional bragging rights for the next year or so.

Courtesy of a thrilling but ultimately dominant 5-2 triumph over Indonesia's PSM Makassar on Aug. 24, the Malaysia Super League outfit won the ASEAN Zone of AFC Cup 2022 to march on into the inter-zone semifinals.

Granted, the AFC Cup remains Asian football's second tier competition behind the AFC Champions League.

- How did ASEAN football fare overall in 2022-23 ACL?
- JDT's ACL dream ends but they will learn from humbling defeat
- Rampant Urawa Red Diamonds proving the real deal in ACL

Still, given its zonal segregation format in the group stage, it is the tournament that guarantees regional battles -- and it is KL City that have emerged as the cream of the crop among Southeast Asia's contenders.

It certainly helps that their zonal triumph came at the expense of a team like PSM, given there has never been any shortage of rivalry -- even animosity - on the footballing front between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Lest it be forgotten, the achievement is even more impressive considering the capital club were only returned to the MSL in 2021, which highlights how far they have come since then under coach Bojan Hodak.

So with bragging rights secured, what is next for the City Boys now?

On the AFC Cup front, they are scheduled to play their inter-zone semifinal on Sep. 7 against the winners of the South Asia Zone -- India's ATK Mohun Bagan.

That tie was initially in doubt due to the All India Football Federation's ban by world football's governing body FIFA for third party interference resulting in Mohun Bagan's temporary suspension from the AFC Cup.

The AIFF have since successfully appealed the ruling and had the suspension lifted, meaning it will indeed be Mohun Bagan that are KL City's next test.

Should the Malaysians emerge triumphant, they will be marching on into the inter-zone final to meet Uzbekistan's Sogdiana Jizzakh, who defeated Eastern of Hong Kong 1-0 in the other zonal semifinal in Tuesday.

Since the AFC Cup adopted zonal segretation in 2017, the inter-zone final is the furthest a ASEAN team have reached and that is the obstacle that KL City would be staring down at this juncture.

Even if they were to overcome it and keep alive their hopes of emulating compatriots Johor Darul Ta'zim -- the only Southeast Asian club to ever win the AFC Cup back in 2015 -- they will almost certainly be huge underdogs in the final given the West Asia's dominance of the competition.

Since the tournament's inauguration in 2004, West Asia have provided the champions in 15 of its 17 editions, and all since the zonal segretation handed their zone a direct spot in the final.

With regards to their continental journey for the rest of season, that is what lies ahead for KL City.

Yet, perhaps the bigger task at hand is ensuring this year's adventure isn't a one off.

Having claimed bragging rights throughout the entire ASEAN region in 2022, KL City must strive to do it again -- and that will have to come through their domestic displays.

Excluding the unstoppable JDT, who have now won eight consecutive titles, the subsequent tier of teams make for a competitive jostle for the status of Malaysian football's next-best club.

Traditional heavyweights Selangor, Kedah Darul Aman, Terengganu and Sri Pahang have fallen by the wayside -- either this season or in recent times -- but never look too far away from a resurgence.

Then there are teams like Sabah and Negeri Sembilan who look firmly on the rise, the latter on the charge under former Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee and currently second in the MSL, and the latter surpassing all expectations in their first year back in the top flight to sit comfortably inside the top three.

The pressure will be on KL City to ensure they are consistently among the best of the rest in order to secure more continental football, either as runners-up of the MSL or by winning the Malaysia Cup -- which they did so brilliantly by beating JDT in the final last year.

There is also the example JDT have provided on how regular participation in the AFC Cup can lead to bigger and better things.

Having long been mainstays in Asian football's second tier, the Southern Tigers eventually graduated to the ACL and just this year reached the knockout round for the first time ever.

At least in 2022, KL City can bask in the glory of their AFC Cup ASEAN Zone success, and rightfully so.

But what comes next? Plenty.