Malaysia head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee has explained that the reason he dropped custodian Khairul Fahmi Che Mat from the national squad is to give other goalkeepers a chance.
He also stressed out that Fahmi had not been playing regularly with Kelantan, after having been dropped to the bench in the most recent two games for The Red Warriors, before the call-up list was announced.
The Kelantan goalkeeper had been a regular in the national team setup, but Kim Swee surprised many when he decided to drop Fahmi, for the first time in many years.
Instead, Kim Swee decided to call up Hafizul Hakim (Perak), Farizal Harun (Felda United) and Khairul Azhan Khalid (Selangor).
Kim Swee said: “Khairul didn’t play in his last two games with Kelantan. Like I said during the AFF Suzuki Cup previously, we have three good goalkeepers.”
“Fahmi played three games in the Suzuki Cup and I think this time, it’s a good chance for other goalkeepers to be tested.”
“This would give us options for when we play against other teams later on,” added Kim Swee.
Another surprise call-up in the squad is Pahang’s Afif Amiruddin, who last played with the national squad two years ago in their 10-0 trouncing to UAE, and Kim Swee insisted that the defender deserves a second chance.
“Afif has been performing very well with Pahang so he deserves another chance. However, whether he plays or not, he still needs to prove himself.”
“Aidil already retired, but Fadhli (Shas), Shahrom (Kalam), Ronny (Harun) and Afif are playing regularly with their clubs so I hope if he can get the chance, he should grab the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, commenting on the back-to-back games against North Korea and Lebanon in June, following the AFC's decision to postpone Malaysia's Asian Cup qualification match against the East Asian side to June, Kim Swee stated that they must not take North Korea lightly.
“North Korea are ranked better than us. I think they have a balanced squad compared if we were to compare with Middle Eastern teams or such as the likes of South Korea and Japan.”
“We know that they used to qualify for the World Cup so we have to prepare and it won’t be easy for us. We must analyse their previous games, especially their style of play with their new coach.”
However, Kim Swee insisted that their focus right now is to face Philippines, in their March 22 friendly, and he is determined to record a win to improve the nation’s ranking.
“The important thing is to take the game against Philippines very seriously. This is the best chance to evaluate our strength and weaknesses after months of not playing with each other.”
Elaborating on the Philippines' strength, Kim Swee said that he believes that the team are getting stronger under their current head coach.
“When I first took over the team as interim head coach, we drew 0-0 in Selayang and in Cebu. They are still with the same [head] coach and I think they are getting better, despite having different players.”
“They only lost to Thailand in the AFF Suzuki Cup so we cannot take them easily. They are the favorites because they played plenty of international matches,” added Kim Swee.