PETALING JAYA: Central Asian side Afghanistan will replace Soloman Islands in the AirMarine Cup from March 20-23.
Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam confirmed the new entry and said the change would not affect the quality of the tournament as the rankings of Afghanistan (147th) and Soloman Islands (143rd) were almost similar.
Solomon Islands withdrew from the four-nation tournament as they have three friendlies during the FIFA international match calendar from March 18-26.
Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe took the news on a positive note.
“We’re ready to face any team and are glad to see Afghanistan playing in the inaugural Cup,” said Cheng Hoe.
“I’ve checked their results. They did well in the previous Asian Cup qualification, and their game is similar to the Middle East teams.
“They are tactically sound and physically strong.
“They have players featuring in the lower leagues of several European countries.
“This tournament is a good platform for Malaysia to gauge themselves against higher ranked teams and also learn from players from different backgrounds.”
Afghanistan’s captain Faysal Shayesteh and striker Mustafa Zazai are no strangers to Malaysian football.
Shayesteh, who currently plays for Thai League Two side Air Force Central, used to play for Malaysian Super League side Pahang while Zazai plays for Kelantan in the Malaysian Premier League.
Coached by 29-year-old former Afghanistani international Anoush Dastgir, the country has won the 2013 SAFF Championship and is currently part of sub-confederation of Central Asian Football Association (CAFA).
The other foreign teams are Oman (90th) and Singapore (165th) respectively.
World No. 167 Malaysia are ranked lowest among the lot.