Harimau Malaya risk missing Asian Cup spot due to pandemic

Malaysia’s last match against UAE in September ended in a 2-1 loss at the National Stadium. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s best chance of qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup could be in jeopardy if the Malaysian League (M-League) is only allowed to resume between October and November.

If Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation intend to resume the postponed qualifying matches in November, the national squad players could find themselves struggling for match fitness.

“Usually we have two to three friendly matches before the real action, but if the permission (to resume) only comes after October, it is not only difficult to organise games, but the performance of the players could also be affected,” former national coach B. Sathianathan said.

“Imagine if for six to seven months a player doesn’t have a training programme or play high-intensity matches, and within a short period is required to play a competitive match?

“I don’t think this will be good for the national team.”

Tan Cheng Hoe’s men are now second with nine points from five out of eight matches played in Group G of the second-round qualifiers.

Only UAE, who are fourth with six points, have a game in hand. Vietnam lead the group on 11 points, with Thailand third (eight points) and pointless Indonesia bottom.

Harimau Malaya were scheduled to face UAE in Dubai before hosting Vietnam at the National Stadium last month. The matches, however, were postponed following the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The games against UAE and Vietnam are crucial, and Malaysia have a good chance. If play only resumes in October, the coach will have trouble assembling a fit team,” added Sathianathan.

Malaysia last played at the Asian Cup when they co-hosted the 2007 edition. Qualification on merit has eluded the national side since the 1980 edition in Kuwait.