Keon targets a spot in the starting XI

With improving fitness levels, Kedah's skipper Khairul Helmi is not only aiming to be in the squad for the AFF Suzuki Cup but to nail down a first XI spot.

 BY       OOI KIN FAI      Follow on Twitter

The only time Malaysia have won the AFF Championship was the historic triumph back in 2010. Every Malaysian football fan will remember the goals that Safee Sali scored in the final against Indonesia but not everyone will remember that Khairul Helmi was also part of the squad that won South-East Asia biggest tournament.

Only 22-year-old back in 2010, Keon as he has come to be known to team mates and fans, did not feature at all for K. Rajagopal but would have soaked up the preparations, memories and joy from that tournament.

Now back again with the national team, Keon is hoping that he will finally make his belated AFF Championship bow in Yangon, Myanmar in two weeks' time. All he needs to do is to convince Datuk Ong Kim Swee that he is up to the task.

Keon's return to the national set-up didn't start on the most auspicous of notes as he suffered a knee injury in that international friendly against Singapore that disrupted his end of the season campaign with Kedah. However, the centre back made great strides to return and eventually feature for The Red Eagles in the Malaysia Cup final that allowed Kim Swee to name him in the preliminary squad.

"I'm getting better every day, maybe over 90% fit at this point in time. I've regained my confidence especially since I managed to get involved in the Malaysia Cup final," said Khairul Helmi before the start of training on Monday.

With Shahrul Saad expected to fill the vacant defensive midfield role, Keon will have to compete against Shahrom Kalam, Ronny Harun and Fadhli Shas for the two centre back positions. The Kedah skipper is hopeful that with his injury behind him now, that he'll be looking for more than just a spot on the bench this time around.

"I've been able to train together the team now without any restrictions. Of course, when it has come to this stage the target is to be in the first XI and start the next game."

In Kedah, Keon acts more like the sweeper in the centre of defence with team mate Bang Seung-Hwan acting as the more aggressive and proactive partner-in-crime. The former's good reading of the game allows him to mask his lack of speed with good positional sense and decision making.

The closest to such a combination would be for Keon to be paried with Fadhli Shas. Could that be Malaysia starting defensive centre back pairing?


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