Pride for Harimau Malaya cubs in line for Pyongyang

Safawi (right) says the age gap with senior players is no problem. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Safawi (right) says the age gap with senior players is no problem. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — Harimau Malaya cubs were stunned but honoured at their inclusion to travel to Pyongyang as Malaysia’s football coach Nelo Vingada crafts a strategy for their “delayed” Asian Cup qualifying match against North Korea on October 5.

SEA Games star N. Thanabalan said he respected the Portuguese coach for his ideas but dreaded the North Koreans as a formidable entity.

“I am always the type who accepts a challenge but to play against the senior team, especially North Korea, is not easy. They are strong but of course everyone wants to be in the senior squad as it is an honour to have earned that trust,” said the 22-year-old Felcra FC forward.

The match at Kim II Sung Stadium was initially scheduled for March 28, then June 8 before the AFC postponed it again to October 5, citing the geo-political tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The decision by the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) to postpone the match “twice” did not go down well with the other countries in Group B.

In June, Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic questioned AFC at the Malaysia-Lebanon pre-match press conference, citing that it should not happen in a regular competition. Malaysia lost to Lebanon 2-1.

In Tuesday’s home match, Malaysia fell back on a 1-1 draw with Hong Kong at Hang Jebat Stadium in Melaka and Vingada said post-match the new-look team next month will likely include some Under-22 players.

Another young star Safawi Rasid said he will “fight all out” for the senior team if selected.

“It is my honour to be with the national team and fight together with our seniors,” said Safawi.

The 20-year-old Johor Darul Ta’zim star conceded the Pyongyang match will be no stroll.

“It’s difficult because it’s an away game. So, if we manage to get one point, it is enough and three points would be a bonus,” he said.

As for the question of a good fit or an age-gap with their seniors on the pitch, both SEA Games overnight heroes Thanabalan and Safawi said, “no problem”.

“I’ve played with the senior squad last year, there is no senior-gap and no problem at all,” said Safawi.

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