The Asean Football Federation (AFF) U22 Championship makes a return after 13 years with the last one being held in 2005 and it becomes a tournament which will give Ong Kim Swee the chance to gauge new players ahead of far more important matches next month.
The AFC U23 Championship qualifier starts towards the end of March 2019 and that will take the priority given that only the 11 group winners and four best runners-up will qualify for the final tournament scheduled to be played in Thailand in 2020. This tournament also offers the route into the 2020 Olympics in Japan and that is where Kim Swee has set his eyes on.
With domestic fixtures going on in full, Kim Swee has had several teams denying players to the national team which has caused some setback towards the preparation for the AFF U22 Championship. Grouped together with Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia; Kim Swee is not setting his hopes for the tournament.
"There's a lot that we still need to improve. In terms of performance, we are still not where we want yet. But I believe after the opening game against Cambodia, we will be better in the second and third matches. The midfield is still a worry as our movement are not smooth there and the link play is still lacking."
"What is important is for us to go there to get the right exposure as well as to achieve good results. There's no specific target but of course we want to do well to go deep in the competition. While there's no target, it doesn't mean we go without purpose. The purpose is to improve the team before AFC qualification.
"Cambodia we cannot take lightly because they have home ground advatange. Myanmar and Indonesia have trained much longer than us. Myanmar stopped their league for one month and Indonesia have trained for three weeks so they are the favourites and we consider ourselves the underdogs," said Kim Swee after a friendly match on Thursday.
Malaysia start their campaign on Monday February 18 against host Cambodia before facing Indonesia and Myanmar in subsequent matches. Only the first match will be kick-off at 6:30pm local time whereas the other two matches will start at 3:30pm which will test the physical limits of the players.
The matches are to be played at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh where the pitch is an artificial one. To prepare for it, Kim Swee has taken his team to train at Bukit Jalil for the past week and no doubt will also have some information from the senior national team that played on the same pitch just three months ago.
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