PETALING JAYA: The future augurs well for the exciting Harimau Muda D boys in the AFC Under-16 football championship in Bangkok.
Coach S. Balachandran has built his team around three talented 15-year-olds – skipper Mohd Shahrul Akmal, with his aggression in the engine room; striker Mohd Najmuddin Samat, with his blistering pace; and playmaker Kogisleswaran Raj, with his commanding skills.
These boys are just some of the notable talents in the team who have made heads turn.
Balachandran has certainly whipped up a formidable team since he first assembled them in January, 2013.
The players are all from Gambang Sports School in Pahang and the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School in Johor.
The former international has injected a “winning mentality” into his boys as well as a “never-say-die” approach in their game. And this has been evident judging by their progress in reaching the AFC Under-16 quarter-finals on Wednesday.
They are now just one win away from making history – qualifying for their first-ever appearance in the FIFA World Under-17 Finals in Chile next year. No Malaysian team have qualified for a FIFA age-group Finals on merit.
The last time Malaysia played in a FIFA age-group Finals was in the Under-20 World Cup in 1997. Then, they qualified as hosts.
Balachandran’s boys must beat Australia in the quarter-finals at the Muangthong Stadium on Sunday (5pm Malaysian time) to ensure themselves an automatic berth in the FIFA World Under-17 Finals.
“We have prepared for this tournament for a long time and will fight as hard as we can to qualify for the World Under-17 Finals,” said Balachandran.
Malaysia finished runners-up with six points in the AFC Under-16 championship in Group A. South Korea topped the standings with nine points while hosts Thailand (three points) finished third and Oman are last with no points.
Malaysia defeated hosts Thailand 1-0 but lost to South Korea by the same score before wrapping up their group campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over Oman on Wednesday.
Australia will be a hard nut to crack as they emerged Group B winners with the maximum nine points, defeating China 3-0, Hong Kong 2-0 and Japan 4-2.
The Malaysians will be no pushovers as they have been on a high since winning the Asia Champions Trophy (ACT) last month – defeating PVF of Vietnam 5-4 on aggregate in the final. Skipper Shahrul picked up the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the tournament. Kogileswaran was also a goal short of being the top scorer after managing 13 goals.
They also won the Asean Football Federation (AFF) youth tournament in Myanmar and the AFC Under-16 qualifiers in Laos last September.
Malaysia have four Harimau Muda squads – A for Under-23, B for Under-20, C for Under-18 and D for Under-16.