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AFC U23 Championship

Despite late arrivals, Ong Kim Swee still relieved by much better club cooperation

11:30 AM GMT 28/11/2017
Ong Kim Swee, Malaysia U23, 28112017
Malaysia U23 head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee is understanding of the drop in his boys' fitness, saying that they needed a break after the season ended.

BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter

Although three from the 30 players he called up to the training camp ahead of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship have not turned up, the fact that it is one of the bets starts to his training camps this year is not lost on Malaysia U23 head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee.

Earlier in the year, Malaysian clubs had refused to cooperate by releasing their players to Ong ahead of the AFC qualifiers and 2017 SEA Games training camps.

The training camp for the qualifiers in July was particularly infamous, as only six players turned up for the first day, out of the 26 called up. The rest were not released by their clubs as the domestic season was still taking place at the time. They only arrived in trickles over the next two weeks.

But Ong nevertheless proved his mettle, guiding his side to the finals as group champions, and a month later to the second place in the SEA Games.

When met by Goal before the Young Tigers' training session on Tuesday, Ong admitted he is relieved by the clubs' cooperation this time around, despite the absence of three players.

"I am grateful for the clubs and associations' cooperation, by releasing their players so they can join the training camp. This is an AFC (Asian Football Confederation) competition, which is a step up from the other tournaments.

"I have enough time to prepare, now that I will have the players for one and a half month. The time I get with them will be an asset in the future," said Ong.

As of Tuesday, Tommy Mawat Bada, Matthew Davies and Syafiq Ahmad are absent, with Davies and Syafiq scheduled to arrive early next month. Tommy had been scheduled to arrive on Monday evening, but inclement weather in his home state had delayed his departure according to Ong.

"We are still waiting for Tommy, and we were told that he lives in a rural area which makes it difficult for him to leave.

"But the latest update I received is he will take a flight from Kuching tonight, so he should join the team tomorrow. It's something beyond everyone's control and should not be turned into a big issue," he remarked.

When asked about the players' fitness, Ong admitted that it is inadequate as they had been on break since the 2017 domestic season ended last month, but said he has enough time to improve it.

"The fitness level of most of the players is very, very low. [But] I expected that because the boys deserve their off-season.

"They needed a rest after a long period of league competition. Some of them have been resting for almost a month, or two or three weeks. We have to be very careful in our approach during training, so as not to push them too much in a short period.

"We've had discussions and have our trainer here, we're trying to implement something that probably involves group training, depending on the situation of the players," explained the former Malaysia senior team head coach.