BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Although Malaysia U-22 head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee lauded the return of AFF U-22 Championship this year, it is apparent that his aim for the 2019 edition is to prepare his U-22 charges for the coming 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualifications.
The AFF competition, held in Cambodia, kicks off on February 17 with the final set to be played on February 26, while the AFC qualifiers will be held between March 22 to 26, in various Asian countries, including Malaysia.
Speaking in the Group B press conference on Saturday in Phnom Penh, Kim Swee lauded Cambodia's decision to play host to the tournament, which had been last played in 2005. Thailand were the champions of that edition.
"First of all I would like to congratulate AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) for making this tournament happen, with the AFC qualifiers set to take place afterwards. I think that suits all Southeast Asian teams.
"Thank you Cambodia for hosting this tournament, I believe it is important to all the teams in terms of preparations. Likewise, Malaysia are looking into getting good exposure and improvements before the qualifiers begin.
"For the past few years, youth football in Southeast Asia has improved a lot. I don't think there are any favourites in this group. Cambodia have prepared well, and while we want to go as far as we can, but most importantly, we have to get a good outing here. It's all preparations for the AFC qualifiers," said the SEA Games gold medal-winning trainer.
Malaysia's campaign will start with their encounter against hosts Cambodia on the 18th, before they faced arch-rivals Indonesia on the 20th. Their final group match will be against Myanmar two days later. The semi-final matches will be played on the 24th, and the third place decider and the final encounters will happen on the 26th.
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