PETALING JAYA: Japan are the favourites to win Group I, leaving Malaysia and Vietnam to battle it out for second place in the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers which start at the Shah Alam Stadium on Friday.
National Under-22 coach Razip Ismail knows his team’s fate lies in today’s crucial clash with Vietnam. Macau are the other team in the group.
Only the top 10 group winners and best five runners-up qualify for next year’s Finals in Qatar. The AFC Under-23 Championship is also a qualifier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“The opening game against Vietnam will give us an early indication of our chances in the tournament. A lot will depend on the outcome of this game and we need to be at our best,” said Razip.
“The expectations are high as we are playing at home. A good result will spur the team to do better in the forthcoming matches against Macau (on Saturday) and Japan (March 31),” he added.
Malaysia are banking on a feel-good factor to get a positive result. Last month, they won the Bangabandhu Gold Cup after edging hosts Bangladesh 3-2 in the final.
The only setback is the last-minute injury woes to first-choice strikers Shafiq Shaharuddin and Ramzi Haziq Mohd. The scoring task is now on the shoulders of Mohd Syafwan Syahlan, Mohd Faizat Ghazali and S. Kumaahran.
Vietnam coach Toshiya Miura, who led the senior Vietnam side to the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals last year, believes his team have the quality to beat Malaysia.
“We have prepared well for this tournament. Our players are eager to do well.
“This is their best chance to catch the eye of the scouts if they intend to play abroad,” he said.
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