Datuk Ong Kim Swee: 'I cannot afford to make too many changes because I don’t have much time to test out the players and the combinations for the Yemen match.'
PETALING JAYA: It may not be the ideal preparation but interim coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee intends to make the best of the short time he has to get the national football team ready for their final Asian Cup qualifier Group D match against Yemen at the Sheikh Tahnoon Stadium in Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates on March 5.
Kim Swee has just two weeks to work out a game plan before meeting the 25 players for the first time on Wednesday – when they report for centralised training – at Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya.
“It is a big task ... the Yemen match will be my first official duty as the interim national coach. It means a lot to me and I wish I had a longer time to prepare the team,” he said on Thursday.
Kim Swee, who is the national Under-23 coach, is also in charge of the Harimau Muda A squad. He was appointed interim national coach when Datuk K. Rajagopal’s contract expired last December.
Kim Swee will only have one warm-up match – against the visiting Philippines national team at the Selayang Stadium on March 1 – before the team leave for UAE.
“I cannot afford to make too many changes because I don’t have much time to test out the players and the combinations for the Yemen match. I will work with the best players available and those who feature regularly in the M-League. I have one test match (against the Philippines) ... I have to get it spot-on,” said Kim Swee.
The bulk of the players called up are familiar faces, except for two new recuits from Pahang – goalkeeper Mohd Khairul Azhan and midfielder Hafiz Kamal.
In the Asian Cup qualifying campaign, Malaysia have four points from five matches and are third in Group D. Bahrain lead the group with 13 points and Qatar are second with 12. Winless Yemen prop up the group.
Malaysia lost their opening qualifying match against Qatar 2-0 in Doha in February but bounced back to beat Yemen 2-1 in Shah Alam in their second match. Malaysia lost to Bahrain 1-0 in the first leg and then drew 1-1 in their match in Shah Alam. In their last game at home, they lost to Qatar 1-0.
The top two teams from the five groups at the end of the home-and-away round-robin qualifiers will automatically make the Finals while the best third-placed side of the five groups will join hosts Australia, defending champions Japan, South Korea and North Korea at the 2015 tournament. The other slot will be taken up by the winner of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.
Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (Kel); Mohd Farizal Marlias (Sel); Mohd Khairul Azhan (Pah).
Defenders: Bunyamin Umar (Sel); Mahalli Jasuli, Mohd Aidil Zafuan, Mohd Fadhli Shas, Mohd Nazrin Nawi (JDT); Mohd Razman Roslan (Pah); Mohd Zubir Azmi (Ter); Amiridzwan Taj Tajudin (Forces).
Midfielders: Baddrol Bakhtiar (Ked); S. Kunalan (Sel); Safiq Rahim, Mohd Shakir Shaari (JDT); Mohd Badhri Radzi (Kel); Junior Eldstal (Swk); Mohd Nazmi Faiz (PKNS FC); Mohd Hafiz Kamal (Pah).
Strikers: Mohd Safee Sali, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Mohd Amri Yahyah (JDT); Azamuddin Mohd Akil (Pah); Ahmad Fakri Saarani (Kel); Bobby Gonzales (Police).
On stand-by: K. Gurusamy, Azmi Muslim (Sel); Mohd Izham Tarmizhi (JDT); Christie Jayaseelan, Affize Faisal Mamat, Venice Elphi (Forces); Mohd Helmi Remeli (PKNS FC).