KUALA LUMPUR – The wide publicity enjoyed by the Asian Cup has made the prestigious football tournament an ideal platform for Malaysian players to prove their worth to attract the interest of international clubs.
At the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a record 836.6 million fans interacted through digital platforms, which is almost double the television viewership of 434 million for the 2015 edition in Australia.
The official Facebook of the 2019 Asian Cup recorded 169.4 million hits, Twitter (106.5 million), Instagram (132.4 million) and the tournament YouTube channel over 28 days recorded more than 700,000 million hours of viewership.
The worldwide attention given to previous editions could well make the 2023 Asian Cup a springboard for national players who excel to embark on new careers overseas.
This may well be the most important motivating factor for national players, especially the younger ones, to work harder to make the final squad for the tournament.
In fact, national football legend Datuk Jamal Nasir Ismail has challenged the Harimau Malaya squad to prove to the world that Asian football was not limited to regional giants like Iran, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Saudi Arabia.
“Playing in the 2023 Asian Cup will open up opportunities for the national players to display their best performance so that the world will take notice of Malaysian football,” he said when contacted.
“All this while they (the world) may have seen Asia as Japan and South Korea playing in the World Cup but they too did not make much headway. So, ensure that the 2023 Asian Cup becomes the turning point for Malaysia,” said the former Pahang defender.
Last week, the national squad coached by Kim Pan Gon ended the country’s 42-year wait to qualify on merit for the Asian Cup after finishing second in Group E of the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, earning the ticket as one of the top five runners-up out of six groups.
The last time Malaysia played in the Asian Cup was in the 2007 edition as co-hosts but had not qualified on merit since the 1980 edition in Kuwait.
Based on the final list of Pan Gon’s squad for the recent qualifiers, only two players are based overseas -Dion Cools with Belgium club SV Zulte Waregem and Junior Eldstal with Thai club Chonburi FC.
There were also two overseas-based players in the Under-23 (U-23) squad to the U-23 Asian Cup in Tashkent, Uzbekistan earlier this month, namely Luqman Hakim Shamsudin of Belgium club KV Kortrijk and Muhammad Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak of Japanese club Azul Claro.
However, more players are expected to receive offers from foreign clubs if Malaysia do well in the 2023 Asian Cup, especially by creating upsets to clear the group stage.
As such, Jamal Nasir advised the players not to be satisfied with merely qualifying for the Asian Cup finals but to start preparing themselves for stiffer competition ahead.
“The players should not get carried away, as there is a long road ahead. Always be prepared, focused and remember that the country is banking on you,” he added. – Bernama