Malaysia coach Ong eyes bragging rights
Malaysia's Ong says victory over the Lions will be crucial ahead of Asean fight
SINGAPORE v MALAYSIA
(Tomorrow, 8pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)
Officially, tomorrow's Causeway Challenge at the National Stadium is only a friendly.
But, like everyone else associated with the game, Ong Kim Swee knows why the stakes are high for any Singapore-Malaysia clash.
"This game, as well as our next friendly against Afghanistan, is very important for our preparation for the Suzuki Cup," said Malaysia coach Ong, ahead of the team's first training session here yesterday evening at the Bishan Stadium.
"Definitely, it's always special when we play against Singapore and both teams need to have a good result but, at the same time, we can't run away from the objective of grooming the new faces in our squad for the upcoming tournament.
"At the same time, this is an 'A' international with Fifa ranking points up for grabs, so we're looking for a good result.
"Victory on Friday will also be a huge morale boost for either team ahead of the Suzuki Cup, so it's a very important game."
Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee. TNP PHOTO: AHMAD FARUQ BIN ROZALI
The region's biggest football tournament, the biennial AFF Suzuki Cup, will kick off next month and the South-east Asian nations are in the midst of their preparations for the tournament.
Malaysia arrived here yesterday afternoon and went through an hour-long training session at Bishan.
With the Suzuki Cup just six weeks away and following a disappointing 3-0 defeat by Indonesia in their last outing, Malaysia's Ong has plenty to do, and his task will be a little easier with victory over their biggest rivals.
Having been handed the national team reins on a full-time basis at the start of the year, Ong's bid to help Malaysia rediscover their glory days has not been helped by what appears to be a "club versus country" row with Johor Darul Ta'zim.
Back in July, four JDT players, including key Malaysia players like talismanic skipper Safiq Rahim and centre back Aidil Zafuan, announced their international retirement within a matter of days.
Then, last week, the JDT II trio of Zaquan Adha, Irfan Fazail and Darren Lok were recalled after joining the national team's training camp, with the club opting to adhere to the obligation of only having to release players four days before the international.
GETTING UP TO SPEED: Ahmad Hazwan Bakri (front) and Fadhli Shas (behind) being put through their paces, as Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee looks on. TNP PHOTO: AHMAD FARUQ BIN ROZALI
Ong refused to delve into the matter and insisted he was only focused on what was in his control.
"I've said enough on the matter and I'll leave it at what it is for the moment… It's better for me to concentrate (on the team) rather than be thinking about something else," said the 45-year-old.
"Even with a short preparation, I hope everyone understands our game plan and that they'll learn from training and even from Friday's game."
However, Ong still has a number of experienced campaigners at his disposal in forwards Amri Yahyah and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who were both part of the side that won the 2010 Suzuki Cup and share over a hundred caps between them.
However, he believes the recent retirements have paved the way for Malaysia's next generation to prove their worth.
"Amri and Norshahrul are experienced players and they will play a very important role to guide the rest, especially since most of the players are quite young and new to the national team," said the Malacca native.
"But we have someone like (Ahmad) Hazwan Bakri, who played in the S.League in 2012, and other promising young players like Safawi (Rasid), Hadin (Azman), Azrif (Nashrulhaq) and our new inclusion Darren Lok.
"Let's see how they go on Friday."