KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — National defensive stalwart Shahrul Mohd Saad won’t take his place in the national team for granted despite coach Tan Cheng Hoe saying he won’t make any drastic changes to the squad.
Another reason why Shahrul, who is also the Perak skipper, is worried about losing his starting spot is beause the whole Harimau Malaya squad have missed out on high-intensity action since the Malaysia League (M-League) was suspended following the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) on March 18 to curb the spread of Covid-19.
With the national team chasing an automatic slot in the 2023 Asia Cup Finals, Shahrul, 27, knows he and his teammates will have to be in tip-top shape when the M-League resumes in September, with all the 12 Super League teams still having seven matches to complete their shortened fixtures.
“Every coach surely wants the best players for his team, especially during such trying times. So, he (national coach Cheng Hoe) has the right to pick whoever he wants. Until last November, I was the first choice but now I’m not too comfortable as it’s been a long time since I’ve played competitively.
“That’s why I need to stamp my mark on the game in the remaining seven matches so that I’ll remain in the national squad,” he said in a statement issued by the Malaysian Football League (MFL) today.
The 2020 M-League and all football activities nationwide have been suspended since March 16 and teams were also barred from holding any training sessions or friendly matches to comply with the government’s MCO.
Another national defender, Mohamad Aidil Zafuan Abd Radzak feels that the remaining matches in this year’s M-League will help the Harimau Malaya in the second round of the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asia Cup qualifying campaign.
He said that it was important for players to regain their momentum, especially since they have been inactive for the last two months.
“I read recently that the coach had said that the M-League would help the national players regain their momentum but, at the same time, he also voiced his concern about the effect it would have on us if the league could not be resumed.
“Efforts to restart the M-League are coming along fine and we, the players, definitely want to see action but the priority must be on health and safety. I can’t be selfish, there are lots of aspects that need to be looked at to ensure the M-League can resume,” he said.
Mohamad Aidil, who stars for Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in the Super League, said he had faith in Cheng Hoe’s tactical nous as well as his teammates’ capabilities for them to do well in the qualifiers despite the fact that national team would have only a short preparation time when the M-League resumes in September.
Based on the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) plans, which are subject world governing body FIFA’s approval, Malaysia are set to take on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai on Oct 8 before welcoming Vietnam to the National Stadium in Bukit Jall on Oct 13.
Malaysia are currently second in Group G in the second round 2022 World Cup/2023 Asia Cup qualifiers after collecting nine points from five matches.
UAE are in fourth spot with six points, but with a game in hand, while Vietnam top the group with 11 points. Thailand are third (eight points) while Indonesia prop up the table without a point. — Bernama