The groups for the preliminiary round two of the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifications were drawn on Wednesday and it sees Malaysia in Group G together with United Arab Emirates (UAE), Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
How former Everton and Australian midfielder Tim Cahill managed to pull that out from the bag is anyone's guess but what he did was ensured that UAE will be spending the next year thinking about Southeast Asia after four teams in that region were picked alongside them for a berth to the next stage of the road to Qatar 2022.
While some may see the draw as being a dull one because four teams in Group G are already playing each other at least every two years, others see the playing field being levelled and there will not be any team in the group that thinks they are out of the running to reach the third round of the qualifications.
President of Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) Dato' Hamidin Mohd Amin takes the view of the latter and is already relishing the prospect of facing regional rivals in front of a packed Bukit Jalil National Stadium. Hamidin is also mindful that the repeat grouping with UAE represents an opportunity to right a past wrong.
"We have to see from several perspectives. After the draw, I told Tan Cheng Hoe that we cannot take things for granted because we were drawn against fellow Southeast Asian teams. But this is an opportunity because we will be facing teams that we constantly face whether in AFF or friendly match.
"But that is not an indication that Malaysia can win easily. Like Indonesia, they fell to Pot 5 because just came out of FIFA sanctions and they lacked friendly matches. Secondly, I reminded Tan Cheng Hoe that we have learn the lessons from the dark episode of that 10-0 defeat away to UAE.
"And it’s not just them but Thailand and Vietnam as well because anything can happen in football. We have to be serious. If the head coach, management team, FAM, fans and media all give their support – our chances of reaching the level that we want can be achieved.
"I also mentioned to him that if we fail to qualify from this round and go into the next draw, it could be a tougher draw than now. We could get Uzbekistan or Syria. So we need to take full advantage of this situation. Given the draw, we have to try and aim for second place in the group," said Hamidin after a media session on Thursday.
In the previous qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Malaysia were also drawn with UAE and suffered an embarassingly heavy defeat in Abu Dhabi which ultimately led to the resignation of then head coach, Dollah Salleh. It will be a similarly tough task that awaits Cheng Hoe against Asian Cup semi-finalist UAE this time around.
Malaysia will open their campaign with an away trip to Indonesia (Sep 5), then host UAE (Sep 10), away to Vietnam (Oct 10) before playing at home to Thailand (Nov 14). The president also went on to suggest that home clashes will be crucial to secure wins and estimates that 16 points from the eight matches played could put Malaysia in a strong position.
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