BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Speaking to the press just before his squad departed for Yangon, Myanmar for the 2017 AFF U-18 Youth Championship, Malaysia U18 head coach Bojan Hodak remarked that his primary objective for the competition is to observe his charges.
When met by Goal at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday, the former Kelantan and JDT head coach said that he only had 10 training sessions with his players since his appointment, and wants to use the annual tournament to familiarise himself with his squad.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on the boys because it's my first time with them. Another reason is that Thailand are traditionally the best side, and while there are Singapore and Malaysia, recently Timor Leste and Cambodia have recorded better results, as well as in development.
"I believe only Thailand are the favourites but we will go match-by-match. We played several friendly matches previously so there have been some good things. Some players showed potential.
"The tournament will be physically very tiring because there are matches every other day. I don't want to put too much pressure on the boys, I just want them to give their best," explained Hodak.
The Croatian trainer also said that he wants to use the tournament to further refine his pool of players, not just for now but also for the future.
"We did not talk about the target because I had only 10 training (sessions) with the boys. To be honest in the first 10 days we were only learning their names.
"The target is obviously to see improvement in every match. In the future, sure, there must be an objective to fulfill; in every tournament, every match and every friendly match.
"Maybe we'll see a few of them who are good enough for the Under-23 team in the future, and some may be dropped because they cannot perform under stress in important matches. This is how you basically groom players for the national team," he noted.
Malaysia have been drawn in Group A alongside 2016 runners up Thailand, Timor Leste, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. Meanwhile Group B will be contested by Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, hosts Myanmar and invitational team New Zealand.
The top two teams from each group will meet in the single-legged semi-final stage, and the winners in the semis will meet in the final match. In the previous edition, Malaysia's campaign ended in the group stage, finishing third in Group A behind Vietnam and Timor Leste.
Malaysia's campaign will begin against Laos on 4.30pm Malaysian time September 4 at the Aung San Stadium. They will then face Singapore (September 6), Timor Leste (8), Cambodia (10), and Thailand (12).