PETALING JAYA: The national Under-23 team are ready to bring the game to Iraq in their AFC Under-23 Championship Group C opener at the Changshu Stadium, China, today.
Coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee’s men will be making their debut against former champions Iraq and he wants his side to focus on their game plan and not be overawed by their illustrious opponents.
“We can’t deny that Iraq are a very good team at youth and senior levels, but for us it’s the game that we are looking at,” said Kim Swee in the pre-match press conference in Changshu yesterday.
“The players are aware of Iraq’s strengths but at the same time we won’t be playing our normal game. We’ll do whatever is necessary to compete against Iraq. With the right tactical approach and discipline, we might get a good result.”
Debutants Malaysia qualified for the Finals after finishing top of their group ahead of Thailand, Indonesia and Mongolia in the qualifying round in Bangkok last July.
The team spent the final phase of their centralised training in Mokpo, South Korea, last month where they played three friendly matches to acclimatise to the cold weather.
The team were supposed to have a final warm-up match against the Syria Under-23 side in Nanjing last Saturday but it was called off due to heavy snowfall.
Despite the setback, Kim Swee said the team are ready to gain valuable experience from their debut after previously only competing at the regional level in the SEA Games.
“It has been a good preparation for us. As you know it is our first AFC Under-23 competition.
“I believe this will be a good beginning for Malaysian football,” said Kim Swee.
“We’re looking forward to it, it’s not going to be an easy tournament. I believe the players will come home with more experience. The SEA Games is a different level of competition compared to this.”
“This is a bigger challenge for the boys ... of course we’ve done well in the qualifiers and in age-group tournaments in our region but at the same time playing against Iraq, Jordan and Saudi (Arabia) will definitely give us a lot of experience.
“We need to work very, very hard and I believe my boys are ready. We hope to learn a lot, and probably come away with a surprise.”
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