BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia U-22 failed to reach the knockout stage of the 2019 AFF U-22 Championship despite defeating Myanmar 1-0 in their final Group B match on Saturday.
The win was not enough to lift head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee's charges into second place, with Indonesia and hosts Cambodia advancing from the group instead.
Malaysia U-22 vs Myanmar U-22 match highlights
However, Kim Swee gave an optimistic take on the performance of theYoung Tigers, who in March will take part in the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers.
"We can't blame anyone for the failure to advance, which is a valuable lesson for us. We have to start thinking about the AFC qualifiers and prepare well.
"My boys have shown not just their fighting spirit, but also their ability to play well when given a decent pitch to play on," said the former Malaysia national team head coach after the match.
He also expressed his satisfaction towards the way the newcomers to his squad have been playing in the tournament.
Five players had not been released by their clubs to join his squad for the tournament, which necessitated five last-minute call-up replacements by Kim Swee.
"I don't want to comment about the players who aren't here, what's important is those who are here. They've shown the desire to play for the national team. It has provided me options, and shown that even without certain players, they are still capable of performing well. Furthermore, the AFC qualifiers will be held on FIFA international match dates. Clubs should have no problem releasing their players.
"Now we know that boys such as Nazirul [Afif Ibrahim], Tasnim [Fitri Nasir] and Nabil [Hakim Bokhari] can slot in in the line-up. They just need more time with the team and exposure at the international stage such as what the tournament has provided. I believe they can compete for spots with the more-established players," remarked the SEA Games gold medal-winning trainer.
He was also optimistic that his best players will not be taken away by the senior team during the qualifiers, commenting that the issue has been blown out of proportion by the media.
The Malaysian FA will be holding a four-team friendly tournament around the same time as the qualifiers are held, and there is a concern that a tug-of-war between him and senior team head coach Tan Cheng Hoe will develop, as several of the U-22 key players are also regulars for the senior side.
"This supposed concern is just something that the media has played up. Cheng Hoe and I have been in a discussion earlier this year, whereby we've agreed that the U-22 squad members will not be involved with the senior team [during the two competitions].
"I hope the media will cease playing it up, and start supporting us ahead of the AFC qualifiers instead," Kim Swee shot back.
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Walaupun ada kelab-kelab Malaysia yang enggan melepaskan pemain mereka menyertai kem Malaysia B-22, kelab @hadifayyadhh di Jepun, Fagiano Okayama berbangga melepaskannya bagi tugasan pasukan kebangsaan. Five of Hadi Fayyadh's Malaysia U-22 teammates have not been released by their Malaysian clubs, but his Japanese club @fagianookayama are proud to let him leave for national team duty.