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Former international Shebby Singh believes that everything is in place for Datuk K.Rajagopal’s men to successfully defend their AFF Suzuki Cup title this year

Malaysia may have lost their friendly match to Vietnam on Tuesday, but the result does not change former captain Shebby Singh’s belief that the Harimau Malaya will emerge triumphant at the end of the AFF Suzuki Cup in November.

Shebby, who is currently the director of football at English club Blackburn Rovers, cites the foundations that have been laid at youth level as the main reason why Malaysia’s national side remains the strongest in the region.

“I would say that Malaysia should start the competition as favourites, and not just because we are the defending champions,” Shebby told espnstar.com.

“I think what was important was for us to win the SEA Games gold medal in 2009 and that was the springboard for victory in the 2010 Suzuki Cup. Likewise, we managed to retain the SEA Games gold medal in 2011.

“These are indications that Malaysian football is definitely headed in the right direction. There has been improvement.”

Known to be a tough-tackling defender during his playing days, Shebby highlighted the bigger talent pool available to coach Datuk K.Rajagopal nowadays as another cause for optimism.

“For me, what has been very important is that there is now genuine competition for places in the national team,” Shebby added.

“Back in the day, the core group of players used to be four or five players but not anymore.

“I genuinely believe that now there are 15 or 16 players in Malaysia who could hold their own if they played anywhere in the region.”

The 52-year-old former pundit also lauded the work done by Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee in grooming the younger players at his disposal.

“There is a very smooth transition from Harimau Muda to the national team. Ong Kim Swee has done a great job to support Rajagopal.

“The boys come from a single background, with the core coming from the Bukit Jalil Sports School. This is what makes Malaysia favourites - the strength in depth and the experience gained will be a very important factor,” he concluded.

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