Johor Bahru: Eduardo 'Nelo' Vingada is no stranger to success in the AFC Asian Cup but, while the Portuguese coach led Saudi Arabia to the title in 1996, his ambitions in his new role with Malaysia are more modest.
With the Malaysians not having qualified for the tournament since 1980 – the country appeared in the 2007 finals as co-hosts – the odds are stacked against the Harimau Malaya as they prepare to kick off their attempt to progress to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
Having seen their opening game with DPR Korea postponed, Malaysia’s meeting with Lebanon on Tuesday at Johor Bahru’sTan Sri Dato Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium will be the country’s first of the campaign.
And it will also be the first in charge of the team for Vingada, who was appointed on May 15 and has had just four weeks with his team.
Short preparation periods, however, are nothing new for the 64-year-old.
“This is the situation and it has happened sometimes in my career with national teams and with clubs; sometimes you arrive and two days later you have to play,” says Vingada.
“The time is very short, but even if it is short I believe the players – and until now they have been fantastic and determined – are receiving and accepting what I tell them. They want to show themselves and they want to be involved in this adventure.
“So even though it is a short time and I don’t know too many things about them, they want to be in this adventure with me. I’m very positive and my perspective is to fight.”
More than two decades ago Vingada’s first foray into Asian football came just one month before the start of the Asian Cup finals the last time they were played in the United Arab Emirates, in 1996.
Then, parachuted in to take over a talented Saudi Arabia team after Brazil’s Ze Mario was fired following a disappointing showing at the Gulf Cup, Vingada galvanized his squad to go and to claim the title with a penalty shootout win over the hosts in the final.
In 2017 and at the helm of Malaysia, though, the task ahead of him is very different. But Vingada, who worked alongside Carlos Queiroz when Portugal won the 1989 and 1991 FIFA World Youth Championships, is no less determined to win.
“Even if Lebanon are in a better position than us and they have some players who play outside and their experience is better than us, we are playing at home and maybe we can compensate for this advantage they have compared to us,” he says.
“We can compensate with our spirit, fighting, running and we are playing at home with the support of our fans and also this can be very positive to reduce the level of Lebanon.
“Football is the number one sport because the best team can lose and this can happen. I know it will be hard and maybe we will have to suffer, but I’m sure that having a short time we can present a compact team that is well organised. But we need time.”
The well-travelled Portuguese can call upon his vast experience to help steer his new team after a difficult period for the Malaysians, which has seen the nation slip to 155th on the FIFA Rankings.
In addition to the Asian Cup win with the Saudis, Vingada has won the league title in Korea Republic with FC Seoul as well as coaching the likes of Jordan, Dalian Shide in China and Iran’s Persepolis plus serving several stints with Maritimo in his homeland.
It is a resume that overflows with experience, but Vingada is quick to stress his presence at the helm will not be enough for the country to start overturning several years of disappointment.
“I’m not better than anyone else who has been here, but I am different,” he says.
“I believe my work before shows that I can bring an improvement and some solutions that can be profitable for the style of football in this country, and not just for the first team but I also have good experience in organising youth football.
“I think we can bring some good results and adapt to the reality and the culture and the mentality and the feelings of the Malaysian players.
“I feel this is a great challenge for me and a great responsibility because the situation, even if it is not good, even if we have to start next week for the first game for qualification, I believe we have to recover the pride for the national team.
“This is my first target, especially now because we have a short time to prepare the team. No one can expect that I make magic and can change everything in this time.
“Our thoughts are focused on this game against Lebanon, but I’m here to look for the future and with the support of the federation and the players – who are the most important part of the game – we can bring some happiness for Malaysian football, for the country and especially for the players.”