PETALING JAYA: National coach A. Arulselvaraj has entrusted skipper Najmi Farizal Jazlan with the task of leading Malaysia to at least a semi-final finish in the Nations Cup in South Africa.
He believes the last-four target is realistic despite a growing list of injuries ahead of the tournament in Potchefstroom from Nov 28-Dec 4.
Defender Najmi had led the Speedy Tigers to their first Sultan Azlan Shah Cup triumph in the competition’s 39-year-history but will also head a side that have lost five key players to injuries.
Defender Marhan Jalil, forwards Shahril Saabah and Mujahid Abdul Rauf have been recovering from injuries picked up during the Tour of Belgium last month while reserve goalkeeper Zaimi Mat Deris and defender Syafiq Hassan joined the injury list after the Azan Shah Cup.
World No. 10 Malaysia are in Group B with nemeses South Korea, Japan and Canada while Group A consists of France, Ireland, Pakistan and hosts South Africa.
In the name list released yesterday, defender Syarman Mat Tee will make his international debut while striker Ramadan Rosli is returning to the international stage after being out of the national side for a few years.
Faizal Saari’s return from the Dutch Premier League (Hoofdklasse) where he played for ZSV Schaerweijde is a relief mainly because of his improved fitness.
Malaysia have named 20 players as permitted by world governing body FIH where only 18 will be registered for the tournament. Teams are allowed to make two changes in case of serious injuries to the registered players.
“Semi-final is a fair target. Although we are the highest ranked team, we have some strong teams playing in the competition. We also have to consider the different time, climate and playing at 1,500m altitude,” said Arulselvaraj.
“We’ve changed the way we train, eat and prepare for a tournament after the Asia Cup.
“As the young players have done well in Ipoh, I believe they can rise to the occasion and keep taking their chances and keep the experienced players on their toes.”
Arulselvaraj is also happy with the commitment shown by Faizal and expects him to be handy while a handful of key players are out of the team.
“Faizal got good reviews from the club coach and we saw him working very hard in training and he was able to complete two sessions of training in a day.
“But he knows well that I don’t put high expectations on him. We won the Azlan Shah Cup without him and he needs to come back and fit into the team, not the other way around but his presence is good news for us.”