PETALING JAYA: Malaysia will field a virtually untested forwardline in the Tiger Cup football tournament.
Malaysia will host the Group B matches and they will open their campaign tomorrow against debutants Timor Leste. Their other opponents in the group are the Philippines, Myanmar and defending champions Thailand.
Out of the team are Kedah hotshot Akmal Rizal Rakhli, Super League Golden Boot winner Indra Putra Mahayuddin and his Pahang teammate Hairuddin Omar.
Akmal is recovering from a knee injury, which required surgery. Hairuddin is also injured while Indra was left out of the team for poor form.
The forwards in Bertalan Bicskei's team for South-East Asia's premier football tournament are Selangor's Mohd Amri Yahyah, Perak's Khalid Jamlus, V. Saravanan and Kuala Lumpur's Mohd Nor Ismail.
GETTING SET: The national team players in training with assistant coach Lim Chuan Chin (in black) at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil Monday. They start their Tiger Cup campaign against East Timor Wednesday.
If goals scored in the Malaysian League are anything to go by, Malaysia will be in dire straits unless these players produce something special.
Indra scored 15 goals; Akmal Rizal has seven goals to his credit; while Hairuddin, who has been nursing injury for most of the season, managed to get three goals in the league.
In comparison, Khalid scored five goals and Mohd Amri had four goals. The other two, V. Saravanan and Mohd Nor, fired blanks.
But some credit should go to Khalid for scoring a brace in Perak's 3-0 win over Terengganu in the FA Cup final in October.
Khalid is making a return to the national team and the Tiger Cup provides him another chance to prove his worth on the bigger stage. He was dropped from the team for bad attitude in 2002 by the then coach, Englishman Allan Harris.
Hungarian Bicskei has faith in the players.
“They are the best available in the country and we have a team capable of reaching the semi-finals,” said Bicskei.
“All the players are better in terms of fitness since I took charge of the team two months ago.
“Tactically, they have been responsive. I think it is all coming together.
“Of course I can say a lot of things but the progress can only be seen on the field.”
Among those making their debut in a major championship are goalkeeper Azizon Abdul Khadir; defenders Norfazly Alias and Ahmad Tharmini Saiban; midfielders Mohd Ivan Yusoff and forward Mohd Nor.
Among those dropped from the final squad of 22 players were Kedah skipper and goalkeeper Megat Amir Faisal Ibrahim.
It was the second blow for Amir in recent days. The first was his fumble, which gave Perlis the solitary goal in the Malaysia Cup final on Saturday.
The others who failed to make the squad were goalkeeper Mohd Suffian Abdul Rahman (Negri Sembilan), Harizul Izuan Rani (Perak), Mat Saiful Mohd (Penang), Asmawi Bakiri and Shariman Che Omar (Kedah).
The biennial tournament begins today with two matches in Group A in Ho Chin Minh City – Singapore versus Vietnam; and Laos versus Indonesia.
THE MALAYSIAN SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Mohd Syamsuri Mustafa (Ter); Azizon Abdul Kadir (Mal).
DEFENDERS: Norfazly Alias (Ter); Wan Rohaimi Ismail (Public Bank); Ahmad Tharmini Saiban (Mal); Norhafiz Zamani Misbah (Nse); Wong Sai Kong (Swk); Rosdi Talib (Pah); Mohd Khaironnisam Shahabuddin (Per).
MIDFIELDERS: D. Surendren, Mohd Shukor Adnan, Leong Hong Seng (Sel); Liew Kit Kong, K. Nantakumar, Chan Wing Hoong (Prk); Mohd Ivan Yusoff (Kul); Mohd Fazli Shaari (Pah); Chow Chee Weng (Pen).
FORWARDS: Mohd Amri Yahyah (Sel); Khalid Jamlus, V. Saravanan (Prk); Mohd Nor Ismail (Kul).
COACH: Bertalan Bicskei.
MANAGER: Datuk Seri Ibrahim Saad.