KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — After delivering a commendable performance at the Asean stage by emerging runners-up in the AFF Suzuki Cup on Dec 15, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) now wants the Harimau Malaya squad to roar at the Asian level.
FAM secretary-general, Stuart Ramalingam, said the squad’s first and ultimate priority for 2019 is to showcase a notable performance in the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers, besides improving its Federation of International Football Association (Fifa) ranking.
Noting the team’s good performance when facing narrow defeats against two top-100 ranked teams, namely world numbers 91 Kyrgyzstan and 100 Vietnam recently, Stuart said Malaysia shouldn’t be dwindling in the 167th place.
“I think we should be in the top 100. It is FAM’s goal to improve our position. Even in the recent AFF Cup, our performance was not far against Thailand and Vietnam, the two Asean teams which qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup. The Qualifiers is going to be a big test for head coach, Tan Cheng Hoe, if he stays on (after his contract expires end of December).
“It is time for us to look beyond the Asean level... But we must get quality, friendly matches to start preparation for the World and Asian Cup Qualifiers. If we play against Asean teams and step into the Qualifiers, it is really a high-intensity level,” Stuart told reporters.
“I hope the players will absorb this (AFF Cup) experience to move to a greater level since we have a very young squad with some experienced players. I hope this experience brings them to the next level when we go to the Qualifiers and hopefully start performing much better,” he added.
Stuart said the national side has received queries from countries as far as Paraguay, the world number 32 and former South American champions, as well as some West Asian countries for two friendly fixtures in March.
However, considering the distance to travel and cost involved, he said the decision will only be made after discussion with Tan on his preferences and plans.
“I am already listening to the countries that we can play We have already written to the countries to check on their calendar. Hopefully, by end of this year, we will know who we are playing in March and June,” he said.
Meanwhile, Stuart described Harimau Malaya’s 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign as amazing, with the boys inspiring many to say: “Finally, I can watch Malaysian football”.
“If we won the Cup, it would have been the cherry on top. We created a brand of football, support base and philosophy that is now being believed by football supporters. We will try to apply this philosophy from the national side to all our development teams and states.
“Yesterday, one of the things I told (Youth and Sports Minister) Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was that what our football has done for the nation in the past two weeks is incredible. It has brought people together from different political parties and races. Football is kind of a remedy for tension,” he said.
Stuart, who was appointed FAM secretary-general four months ago, said that what has let him down is the online ticketing issue and overcrowded Bukit Jalil National Stadium during the first leg of the final between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Malaysia emerged runners-up in the AFF Suzuki Cup after losing 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam in the final on Saturday. On their journey to the final, they overcame Thailand on an away goal rule after a 2-2 deadlock in the semi-finals, defeated Cambodia 1-0, Laos 3-1 and Myanmar 3-0, as well as a 0-2 defeat to Vietnam in group stage. — Bernama