Pan Gon expects interesting match against wounded Turkmenistan

JOHOR BAHRU – National head coach Kim Pan Gon (picture) deliberately chose one stronger team and another that is equivalent to the strength of the Harimau Malaya squad as opponents during the FIFA International Match Calendar from March 20-28.

The Harimau Malaya, ranked 145th, will meet Turkmenistan (135th) at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Iskandar Puteri tomorrow night before facing Hong Kong (146th) on March 28 at the same venue.

The 53-year-old South Korean-born coach said through the two Tier 1 international friendlies, his team will gain something valuable from a stronger team and have a chance to maintain good momentum in the hunt for ranking points.

“For Turkmenistan, we accepted their proposal because I think they were disappointed when they lost against us (during the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifier campaign in Kuala Lumpur last year (Malaysia won 3-1), so they are eager to come here to prove themselves that they are better than Malaysia.

“So we are happy to invite them here to have a rematch, we also want to prove ourselves that we are the better team than Turkmenistan. I think it should be an interesting game tomorrow,” he told the pre-match press conference ahead of the clash against Turkmenistan, here, today.

He added that the result is not what he is looking for in tomorrow’s match, but a positive performance and the philosophy of Malaysian football are his priority.

At the same time, he described the two matches, against Turkmenistan and Hong Kong, as showing how earnest the national team are to prepare not only for the 2023 Asian Cup but also for the 2026 World Cup qualifying round scheduled to start next November.

“World Cup Qualification and Asian Cup final round are very important for Malaysian football’s future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pan Gon admitted that he faced difficulties in deciding the starting line-up against Turkmenistan when all 27 players including eight new faces are currently in their best shape and ready to play tomorrow night.

“New players adapting well, they showed us their ambition, passion to be better and to challenge to get into the first eleven (starting line-up). I’m confident anyone can be in the first eleven, everybody very fit and I’m having a headache making the list,” he said.

In the meantime, he is excited to go through a new experience managing the team during the month of Ramadan which is expected to start tomorrow but feels that fasting will not have much effect on the players’ performance in training or in matches.

In a separate development, according to FAM officials, Turkmenistan are expected to arrive here in the late evening and will not undergo training, but instead will only go to the match venue to inspect pitch conditions. – Bernama