BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After Malaysia were drawn in the same group with North Korea, Hong Kong and Lebanon in the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers draw held on Monday, Harimau Malaysia head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee has laid out his plan to take his side to the final tournament.
According to Kim Swee, qualification for his side will only be secured if they are able to collect 10 or 11 points from their six Group B matches.
"If we were to qualify to the final tournament, we need to collect at least 10 or 11 points from all the six matches.
"And that means collecting the maximum nine points from all three of our matches at home," explained Kim Swee to Goal in a phone interview.
Furthermore he desribed the 128th-ranked North Korea, Malaysia's first opponents in the group, as the group favourites. The match is scheduled to be played in the hermit republic on March 28 2017.
"In this style of competition, where the matches are held over the course of a year, it is important for teams to do well in their first match.
"And for us, yes that means having to do well against group favourites, North Korea in our first match," he continued.
After the match against North Korea, Malaysia are scheduled to play at home against Lebanon (ranking 148) on June 13 and Hong Kong (ranking 140) on September 5, before playing away to Hong Kong on October 10, at home to North Korea on November 14, and away to Lebanon on March 27 2018.
The top two teams from all six groups will qualify for the final tournament which will be hosted by United Arab Emirates in 2019, along with 12 teams which have already secured qualification directly from the second round.
When asked whether there will be significant changes to his lineup for the qualification, the 46-year old coach simply said that it is still too early to tell.
"Only one round of the Super League (MSL) has been played (last weekend), so it is too early too tell.
"However I can tell you this; my scouts have been to most of the grounds last weekend," explained the SEA Games gold medal-winning coach.
When asked by Goal whether the fact that six of the nine goals scored in the first MSL round were scored by Malaysian strikers, the first time in many MSL rounds that Malaysian players have scored more than their foreign counterparts, is a good change for him, he responded in the affirmative.
"Of course this is good. If local strikers are able to score more goals, they'll get even more playing time at their clubs, which in turn will help their chances with the national team," he responded.