Mukhairi eyes a ‘family gold’

PETALING JAYA: Skipper Mukhairi Ajmal Mahadi (pic) was just 20 when he led a young Malaysian football team to the Hanoi SEA Games last year. They finished fourth, losing on penalties to Indonesia.

Now, 21, he will again lead the team but this time, he knows his “family” well.

Most of the players in Hanoi are still with the team and Mukhairi wants that bond they built in Vietnam to take them to greater heights this time in Cambodia.

“In the last Games, we were such a close-knit unit, and although we lost the bronze medal playoff, we got together and said this family will stay strong for the next Games,” said Mukhairi.

He now has his eyes on the gold medal, which Malaysia last won in 2011, beating Indonesia 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Jakarta.

Selangor’s Mukhairi is expected to be a key man in Cambodia as Malaysia will be fielding all Under-22 players and not using any overaged players, although two are allowed.

“I can see we have a formidable squad. I hope all of them can work well with the ideas and principles of coach Ela (E. Elavarasan).

“We will not take this Games lightly because we are in a tough group, but this is the best chance to do something special.

Malaysia have been drawn in Group B - the Group of Death - with Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Laos.

“The last time around, we reached the semi-final without any senior players. This year, most of the same players are still around and are experienced, although we are all still below 22.

“We want to help Malaysia be the champion,” he said.

Besides Mukhairi, the other key men expected to play important roles are centreback Harith Haiqal Adam Afkar, goalkeeper Sikh Izhan Sikh Nazrel Azman, wingback V. Ruventhiran, winger Najmudin Akmal Kamal Akmal and striker Haqimi Azim Rosli.

Malaysia’s last appearance in the men’s football final was when the country hosted the Games in 2017. Then, Malaysia lost 0-1 to Thailand.

This time though, with Mukhairi leading a team that has experienced much together, Malaysians can hope for an end to the 12-year wait for gold.

The football competition will start early with the preliminary round starting tomorrow in Cambodia.

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