Airmarine Cup to be Malaysia's battleground to avoid World Cup first round qualifier

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In the quest to be among the best 34 teams in Asia, FAM will hold the Airmarine Cup in March to give the national team chance to gain precious points.

Currently ranked 167th in the FIFA rankings, Malaysia are also in the 35th spot within the Asian zone and that is one below the line that the team needs to be ahead of the draw of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Those ranked from 35-46 will have to go through a first round knockout before entering the group stage.

Recent progress under Tan Cheng Hoe, in particular the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup has enabled Harimau Malaya to remained consistently at the 167th spot but will need to gain more points in the coming points to push the team further up the rankings.

The introduction of the 2019 Airmarine Cup will feature all teams ranked higher than Malaysia in the rankings. Getting good results against Oman (90th), Solomon Islands (143rd) and Singapore (165th) will give Malaysia the necessary points boost they need.

"It is about how to make the national team and our rankings better. We need to be in the best 34 in Asia when the qualifiers come around to avoid the first round. We are currently in 35th position, so hopefully with this we can help the team to push up the rankings," said Datuk Wira Yusoff Mahadi during the press conference of the tournament announcement.

Goal understands that two other Asian countries with rankings higher than Singapore were approached but because the head coach handles both the senior and under-23 sides, they were not able to send teams. New Zealand were the other probable opponent prior to Solomon Islands but the former pulled out in the final hour.

The cup is likely to the first of many as FAM look to open up the chance for the national team to play more competitive matches that is in-line with the association's push for Malaysia to reach the upper echelons of Asian football. 

"We don't want to discontinue with just one tournament. We've been in Malaysia for a number of years now. We are hoping for this to be the inaugural event. We will evalute after this event and see how the planning is for the next year," said Julian Kam, CEO of ProEvents.

With the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers happening during the same period, FAM also revealed that Tan Cheng Hoe will not be selecting any U23 player for the two matches in the Airmarine Cup and will give opportunities to other players for the senior team.

The draw for the cup will be made next week with two sem-final matches played back-to-back on March 20 with the winners and losers playing each others respectively on March 23 for the chance to lift the trophy.

 

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