Asia is the earliest zone within the FIFA family to be starting their World Cup qualifying campaign towards Qatar 2022 with the play-off round taking place next week. Together with 11 other teams, Malaysia are vying for six places in the Second Round group stage of the qualifiers.
Preparation began on Monday night as players arrived for a week long training before an international friendly against Nepal on Sunday at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. Tan Cheng Hoe last saw his squad back in March but this time around has made numerous changes to his team for this set of play-off.
Of the 26 players called up to the training, only 24 turned up on the first day with two Pahang players in Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Mohamadou Sumareh asking for a 24 hours extension due to personal issue. However Cheng Hoe will also have to content with a lack of options at right back following Syahmi Safari's injury.
"A total of 24 players have reported on the first day with the exception of Mat Yo and Sumareh who both have personal issues to settle and I hope to see them reporting on Tuesday. Syahmi Safari got injured two weeks ago and after doctor's assessment, we've released him back to Selangor.
"Whichever team we are playing, we still have to focus on our team and our way of playing. We are completely focus at the job at hand because the play-off is very important to us. That is also why we will taking the friendly against Nepal very seriously," said Cheng Hoe before Monday's training session.
Four new players Dominic Tan, La'Vere Corbin-Ong, Faisal Halim and Rodney Celvin Akwensivie have been called up this time for Cheng Hoe to assess their suitability. There are also returning figures in Shahrel Fikri, Syafiq Ahmad, Syamer Kutty and Adam Nor Azlin who weren't there during the Airmarine Cup in March.
Realistically speaking, while the Timor Leste double header is considered an extremely important match, the strength of the opponent should also mean there's room for Cheng Hoe to maneuver in should he decide to experiment a little bit with his team selection.
Both home and away matches will be played in Kuala Lumpur which adds to the advantage that Malaysia already have. The Harimau Malaya are heavy favourites to advance at the expense of Timor Leste and perhaps Cheng Hoe should be also looking at his squad with the second round qualifiers in mind.
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