Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee has called up 25 players for next month’s crucial 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification play-off against Timor-Leste.
Ong, who was handed the reins of Harimau Malaysia on a two-year deal back in January following the departure of Dollah Salleh, has set his sights on advancing to the third and final round of qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup, which will be held in the United Arab Emirates.
But after the Malaysians finished fourth in Group A in the previous round, they will now have to see off fellow Southeast Asian side Timor-Leste over two legs if they are to achieve just that.
AFC Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers Play-off Round Fixtures
On paper, Ong’s charges will head into the tie as favourites and, as expected, a significant portion of the team – ten in total – hail from reigning Malaysia Super League and AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), including captain and playmaker Safiq Rahim, talismanic centre-back Aidil Zafuan and evergreen striker Amri Yahyah.
Other familiar names that will provide plenty of experience include Kelantan goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi, Kedah midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar and JDT defender Fadhli Shas.
There is no place, however, for Safee Sali, arguably Malaysia’s most lethal forward over the past decade or his former strike partner Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. Instead, up-and-coming prospects such as PDRM’s Abdul Latiff Suhaimi and Penang’s teenage prodigy S. Kumaahran have been given a chance to prove their worth.
Ong, who led the Malaysia Under-23 team to the gold medal at the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, has also welcomed several players back from the international wilderness, including FELDA United winger D. Christie Jayaseelan, Darul Ta’zim midfielder Amirulhadi Zainal and Kedah's enigmatic attacker Ahmad Fakri Saarani.
Before they meet Timor-Leste on June 2 and 7, with both games to be hosted at the Larkin Stadium in Johor Bahru, Harimau Malaysia will warm up with a friendly against Myanmar in Yangon at the end of this month.
Goalkeepers: Izham Tarmizi (Johor Darul Ta’zim), Farhan Abu Bakar (Kedah), Khairul Fahmi (Kelantan)
Defenders: Aidil Zafuan, Fadhli Shas, Fazly Mazlan, S. Kunanlan (all Johor Darul Ta’zim), Khair Jones (Melaka United), Matthew Davies (Pahang), Azrif Nashrulhaq, Shahrom Abdul Kalam (both Selangor)
Midfielders: D. Christie Jayaseelan (FELDA United), Amirulhadi Zainal, Junior Eldstal, S. Chanturu, Safiq Rahim (all Johor Darul Ta’zim), Amirul Hisyam, Baddrol Bakhtiar (both Kedah), Brendan Gan (Kelantan), R. Gopinathan (Selangor)
Forwards: Amri Yahyah (Johor Darul Ta’zim), Ahmad Fakri Saarani (Kedah), Abdul Latiff Suhaimi (PDRM), S. Kumaahran (Penang), Ahmad Hazwan Bakri (Selangor)