PETALING JAYA: The national football teams have a hectic schedule with three major tournaments lined up for them this year and they will start their preparations with two friendly matches against Finland at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil at the end of the month.
National coach Allan Harris will have to juggle his act. The Under-23 squad have two assignments – the pre-Olympics in June and the Vietnam SEA Games in December. The seniors have the pre-Asia Cup in August.
“The early matches are to keep the boys focused. We were to play against Norway but they have withdrawn and Finland are keen to take up the offer to play two matches here,”' said Harris, who is expected to assemble the national trainees on Jan 20.
The Englishman said that the players were on the right track after commendable performances in the recent Asean Football Federation's (AFF) Tiger Cup tournament where they finished fourth.
Malaysia emerged as the winners in the Group B tournament in Singapore. They beat Singapore (4-0) and eventual champions Thailand (3-1) and drew 1-1 with Laos. In the championship playoffs in Jakarta, Malaysia were beaten 0-1 by Indonesia in the semi-finals and 1-2 by Vietnam in the match for third place.
“I believe the best is yet to come from the boys. Give them another two years and they will be a formidable side,” said Harris, who became the national coach in December 2000.
At the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 2001, the Malaysian Under-23 team finished as the runners-up to Thailand, losing 0-1 in the final.
Harris believes that he has assembled a bunch of fighters for the future.
“This is a young team with fantastic team spirit. I made up my mind when I took charge of the national team that I am going to sink or swim with this young set of players,” said Harris of youngsters like Norhafiz Zamani Misbah, Mohamed Fadzli Shaari, Juzaili Samion, Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Akmal Rizal Rakhli.
Harris also commended the senior players who made their debut in the Tiger Cup – K. Nanthakumar, Victor Andrag and Chan Wing Hoong.
“I am going to look around for more players when the local league kicks off on Feb 8,” said Harris.
Malaysia are among the 12 seeded teams for the pre-Olympic tournament, which is an Under-23 event.
They will see action in the second round against the winner of the match between Turkmenistan and India.
It will be tough for the seniors in the pre-Asia Cup.
They are down to play against Bahrain, Iraq and the winners of a preliminary round group comprising Myanmar, Brunei and Maldives.