Malaysia not at their best
But Malaysia coach Ong heartened by enthusiasm of new faces
He has had to grapple with the retirement of key players, leaving him with a largely inexperienced side.
To worsen matters, Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee has had only four days to work with his full squad, which includes five uncapped players.
However, Ong has chosen to focus on the positives, ahead of tonight's Causeway Challenge against Singapore.
"After a few days of training with the new faces, they are so eager and every one is trying to impress me and that is a good sign," he said at yesterday's pre-match press conference.
"This will be a chance for the new faces to prove themselves. We have focused on the defence a lot and I want to see them play at a competitive international level against Singapore."
He was probably referring to Kedah defender Khairul Helmi Johari and utility player Rizal Ghazali.
Along with Kedah star midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar, they look set to start in place of Johor Darul Ta'zim's quartet of Aidil Zafuan, Safiq Rahim, Amirulhadi Zainal and S Kunanlan, whose retirement has left a vacuum in the team.
Goalkeeper Khairul Fahmie Che Mat and Izham Tarmizi Roslan are not in the squad, with Selangor custodian Khairul Azhan set to start in a new-look backline.
"I hope (tonight) they can do something, but after a lot of changes, it's going to take time for the team to gel. This game is good to assess that," said Ong.
Malaysia beat Singapore 3-1 in the 2014 Suzuki Cup group stage at the Singapore Sports Hub's National Stadium. The Tigers then lost 3-4 to Thailand in the two-legged finals.
Ong was hesitant at predicting another final appearance at this year's competition, which takes place from Nov 19 to Dec 17.
Malaysia are in Group B alongside Myanmar, Vietnam, and the winners of the qualifying round.
"The target is always set high and everyone wants to be in the final," he said. "But let us focus on getting past the group stage first and then we can talk about what's next.
"It's important to prepare well and with that we can achieve our target."
– SHAMIR OSMAN
After a few days of training with the new faces, they are so eager and every one is trying to impress me and that is a good sign.
— Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee