The head coach of the Malaysia Under-23 team is under no illusion who the strongest opponent in the upcoming AFC U23 Championship qualifier will be and they are none other than China. While Philippines and Laos are still credible opponents in Group J, China does look the obvious big threat.
Only the winner of the group is guaranteed a spot in the finals and only the four best runners-up will join the 11 group winners in the 2020 tournament scheduled to be played in Thailand. Therefore the stakes are high in the final match of the group that will be played on March 26.
As such with the all the players selected having arrived at camp, Kim Swee is already looking to field his strongest side when his team take on Australia in a friendly match at Shah Alam Stadium on March 17, taking into account Graham Arnold's former association with the current head coach of China.
"It's not an expriment any more. When I field the players for Australia, it will be my best line-up. I will look at the players who have seldom seen action and need match fitness. So the players that may feature against Philippines are likely to get at least 70 minutes of game time."
"Australia have good qualified for several Olympics and we know their young team have done well in various tournaments. So this match is very important because I think Australia can be looked at like the China team as their coach was previously an assistant to Guus Hiddink. So there may be similarities in their games which may help us when we face China later," said Kim Swee before training on Thursday.
If the stakes hadn't already been high, it is even more now that Pakistan have pulled out from the qualifiers. Even though Pakistan are in a different group, their pull-out has ramifications on all the other groups when it comes down to the four best runners-up.
It means that any result achieved against the bottom place team does not count and thus only result between the top three teams in the group will be the deciding factor in who advances to the finals. Should Malaysia not be able to finish top of Group J, there's a real need to get at least four points on the boards with a very healthy goal difference if Kim Swee is to repeat the feat of taking the team to the finals once again.
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