by BERNAMA / pic credit: affsuzukicup.com
KUALA LUMPUR – The Harimau Malaya squad’s mission to chase their second ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup title since winning it for the first time in 2010, begins today against Cambodia.
The national team came close in 2014 and 2018, but finished as runners-up after losing in both finals.
Head coach Tan Cheng Hoe’s men now have the opportunity to end the drought in the 2020 edition in Singapore.
Their success in the tournament will not only be a morale booster for the team, but also delight all the local fans who wish to see Malaysia be crowned as the ‘kings’ of Southeast Asia once again.
It would also be their first international title in over a decade, since beating archrivals Indonesia to win the 2010 edition of the cup.
Drawn alongside Cambodia, Laos, defending champions Vietnam and Indonesia in Group B, Malaysia have a good chance of finishing in the top two and advancing to the semi-finals based on world rankings.
Malaysia are currently ranked 154th in the world, with only Vietnam above them at 99th, while Indonesia are 166th, Cambodia (170th) and Laos (185th).
After their campaign opener against Cambodia tomorrow, they will face Laos on Dec 9, followed by Vietnam (Dec 12) and Indonesia (Dec 19).
However, it is not going to be an easy road for Cheng Hoe’s side, who will be without the services of some key players, apart from having to go through a short and challenging preparation phase due to some last-minute injuries.
Cheng Hoe was also unable to test his tactics and player combinations due to the lack of friendly games, and could only gather his full team just two days prior to the opening match.
To make matters worse, the national squad has also lost the services of another two players, namely goalkeeper Muhammad Khairulazhan Mohd Khalid and winger Muhammad Faisal Abdul Halim, who will need to undergo a 10-day quarantine period after testing positive for COVID-19.
The unfortunate episode may slightly hamper the team’s preparations, but it can also be the best talisman for the national team lined up with some experienced and exceptional young players with the potential of making their own history.
Cheng Hoe’s squad has several up-and-coming talents such as winger Arif Aiman Mohd Hanapi who was called up at the last minute, as well as Luqman Hakim Shamsudin (striker) and midfielder Muhammad Mukhairi Ajmal Mahadi.
Apart from that, the services of seniors such as goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, who was in the squad which won the 2010 AFF Cup 2010, as well as Baddrol Bakhtiar and captain Mohamad Aidil Zafuan Abd Radzak, will likely be able to provide some balance in terms of experience.
Overall, it is not impossible for Malaysia to set foot into the final of the AFF Cup for the fifth time since it was first held in 1996, provided it can get past some well-prepared teams such as Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.
In the last five editions of the AFF Cup, Malaysia has got passed the group stage four times, and played in three finals, winning one of them.