Cheng Hoe says players can now focus on qualifiers

Other priorities: Cheng Hoe wants the national team to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup Finals.

PETALING JAYA: Many in the region may be ruing the cancellation of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020, a regional football spectacle, but not national coach Tan Cheng Hoe. He is a relieved man.

The Asean Football Federation (AFF) announcement on Thursday that the meet has been postponed to next year has the coach smiling. He said he could now concentrate on the 2022 World Cup-2023 Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

“As a coach, I feel a bit relieved. For 2020, we can focus on the qualifiers, which is a priority as we want to get into the Asian Cup, ” said the former Kedah coach.

“Most of our national players have not had much competitive action this year because of the pandemic. With the league starting this month, at least the players can prepare themselves mentally for the qualifiers.

“They just need to focus on October and November. After that, they can think about next season.”

Malaysia started their Group G campaign with a 3-2 win over Indonesia in Jakarta (Sept 5) followed by two straight defeats – 1-2 to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Bukit Jalil (Sept 10) and 0-1 to Vietnam in Hanoi (Oct 10).

However, they bounced back at home with a 2-1 win over fancied Thailand on Nov 14 and a 2-0 victory over Indonesia on Nov 19 to take second place with nine points from five matches.

Vietnam lead the group with 11 points while Thailand are third with eight.

The AFF council, it is learnt, are considering two dates for the AFF Suzuki Cup. The two periods are from April to May, or July to August.

The schedule will be tight next year as players will have to take part in the M-League, AFC Champions League, AFC Cup, Asian Games, SEA Games and the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Cheng Hoe understands that it will be tough next year, but believes the players have the time to mentally strengthen themselves before the busy period.

“With a cramped schedule, it will no doubt be difficult for the players. It can be very draining.

“But, I would advise all the players to be mentally and physically prepared for it. As professionals, we have to be ready for any challenge.

Meanwhile, Cheng Hoe said he had communicated with some national players affected by salary issues and said their motivation had not been affected. In fact, they wanted to stay in form and get themselves noticed for the national team.

Teams like Kedah, Melaka and Kelantan have been beset with wage issues over the past few months, and several national players like Irfan Zakaria, Rizal Ghazali, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Ifwat Akmal Chek Kassim, Hadin Azman (Kedah), Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (Melaka) and Nik Akif Syahiran (Kelantan) have all been affected.

“They are still positive. They know Malaysia is doing well in the international stage, and they want to be part of the team. Whatever issue they face, they are positive about the national team.

“When the league resumes, I am sure they will get their match temperaments back, ” he said.

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Tan Cheng Hoe , AFF Suzuki Cup , Malaysia


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