KUALA LUMPUR: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Just when the Harimau Malaya defence could use a cool presence in the department, one has arrived.
Dion Cools, the latest player to report to the national team camp in Dubai yesterday, has what it takes to bolster Malaysia’s defence when they take on hosts the United Arab Emirates in a World Cup 2022-Asian Cup 2023 second round qualifier tomorrow.
The 24-year-old Cools is a versatile defender who can play as leftback or centreback.
Malaysia’s backline needs some tightening up, after conceding six goals in two friendlies against Kuwait and Bahrain last week. Tan Cheng Hoe’s men were beaten 1-4 by Kuwait and then lost 0-2 to Bahrain.
Cools, whose father is Belgian and mother Malaysian, was announced as the latest addition to the national team by Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin on their official Facebook page yesterday.
He featured for Midtjylland in the Danish League in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
The 1.85m-tall Cools played creditably against Liverpool players such as Mohd Salah, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota in the Champions League this season.
Born in Kuching, Cools had also played against several top sides like Manchester United and Ajax Amsterdam when he was with Belgium’s Club Brugge.
There were attempts to call up Dion for national duty a few times but he wanted to focus on his career in Europe and was hopeful of playing for the Belgium national team.
“We’re pleased that Dion has joined us in Dubai and he is the 26th player to join Harimau Malaya.
“All the documentation process at FIFA and AFC, especially on his citizenship status and registration, are settled.
“With his presence, we hope we can widen our team options, ” said Hamidin.
FAM secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam also expressed his appreciation to Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim for playing a big role in getting Cools to play for the national team.
“We thank Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim for the important role he played in convincing Cools to choose Malaysia as the team to play for at the senior level.
“The process of switching status from Belgium to Malaysia already started long ago after he agreed to choose Malaysia.
“Cools has played for Belgium at the Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 levels before but is eligible to represent Malaysia.
“However, we needed to get the approval from the FIFA Player Status Committee with the condition that he has never played for the Belgium senior team.
“The other condition he met was that he was born in Malaysia and his mother is a Malaysian.
“FAM also sent an official letter to the Royal Belgian Football Association a few times to get the detailed playing involvement of Cools in Belgium.
“FAM then submitted the documents to the FIFA Player Status Committee for approval.
“Once we got the approval, we immediately registered Cools in the early list for the World Cup 2022-Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers and only after that, could we officially announce his inclusion, ” said Stuart.