KUALA LUMPUR – National head coach Tan Cheng Hoe (picture) is keeping his fingers crossed that Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) winger Muhammad Safawi Rasid will be back to his best for the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup second round qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in June.
Cheng Hoe said the Harimau Malaya squad would need the 24-year-old to be in peak condition if they are to make a positive impact when they take on hosts UAE, Vietnam and Thailand in the remaining Group G matches.
The coach, however, admitted that Safawi would need time and space to regain his rhythm after suffering an injury to his left knee during a Super League match against UiTM FC in March.
“Any player coming back from an injury will need time to get back to his groove. But he (Safawi) has played one or two matches already and that’s good for his confidence.
“We hope Safawi can give the national team a boost. I am confident he can shine in the coming matches,” Cheng Hoe said when met recently.
After being loaned to Portuguese League professional outfit Portimonense S.C last season, Safawi, who hails from Dungun, Terengganu, rejoined JDT this season.
However, his form has taken a dip after being out for two to three weeks due to the injury, although he did feature as a substitute in JDT’s last two Super League matches against Sri Pahang FC and Terengganu FC.
Meanwhile, Cheng Hoe refuses to put pressure on Malaysia League (M-League) coaches to field national players.
He said that although it was important for the national players to play as often as possible for their own physical and mental preparation, it was up to the players to prove to their M-League team’s coaches that they deserve a starting spot in the first place.
“I respect the teams’ coaches because they too have a KPI (key performance indicator) set by the clubs and I also know that our strikers do not get much playing time in the league. Although they lack playing time, they must do something more during training sessions,” he said.
Malaysia will take on hosts UAE on June 3, Vietnam on June 11 and Thailand on June 15 in their three remaining Group G fixtures as they seek an automatic slot in the 2023 Asian Cup Finals and, thus, qualify for the third round of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.