BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Although Malaysia U-19 were shown an early exit in the 2018 AFC U-19 Championship, there was one positive improvement shown in their last match.
In their 2-0 Group D defeat to China U-19, which saw the Young Tigers failing to advance to the quarter-final stage, young star Akhyar Rashid finally played his first full 90 minute-match in a while.
The fitness level of the 19-year old forward, who also plays for Malaysia U-23 and the Malaysia senior team, has been below par for a while, and in both Malaysia U-19's first two group matches in the tournament, he only came on mid-way through the second half.
Earlier this year, he has played in the AFC U-23 Championship, the Asian Games, the AFF U-19 Youth Championship, as well as in the domestic competitions for his club, Kedah. He has been listed in the provisional Malaysia squad for the 2018 AFF Championship which will kick off in November, and if he is listed in the final squad by Malaysia senior team head coach Tan Cheng Hoe, it will be his fifth international tournament in 2018 alone.
But Malaysia fans have nothing to worry about, as according to Malaysia U-19 head coach Bojan Hodak, the teenager's fitness will recover fully by the time the Southeast Asian tournament starts.
"Akhyar is not physically fit, he had not played a full game in quite some time. When he joined the squad he was only ready to play for 30 minutes, and in the second game his fitness improved, and he played for (almost) 45 minutes.
"Today (Friday) he started the game and played until the final whistle. Perhaps he could have done better in the match, but you could see there were moments in the match during which he showed his quality. That's why he also plays for the full international team.
"But he needs to be fully fit to play at the international stage, at whichever age level. However, he will be ready for the senior team in the AFF Championship, whereas he was simply not ready to play full 90-minute matches for us," explained the Croatian after the China defeat.
Akhyar and his Malaysia U-19 teammates returned to Malaysia from Jakarta, where the tournament was held, on Saturday, but he will only join the senior Malaysia team centralised camp on Tuesday.
Read more on the tournament.
Also follow Goal Malaysia 's Instagram account!