Nor Azam Azih, J. Partiban and Shahrel Fikri all part of the squad during Malaysia's round of matches in the month of September with Nor Azam in particular being a vital cog in the team. But sadly none of the trio will be available for Tan Cheng Hoe's selection come October 10 for the crucial 2022 World Cup qualifier against Vietnam.
Cheng Hoe confirmed that all three are left out of the travelling squad to Hanoi after the 6-0 trashing of Sri Lanka on Saturday because there wasn't sufficient time for all three to recover from their respective injuries. Coincidentally with the initial squad having 26 players and only 23 can be registered for the match day, it made the situation easier for the head coach.
Which is why Akram Mahinan slotted in alongside Brendan Gan in central midfield at Bukit Jalil National Stadium last night as Cheng Hoe looks to assess the potential options for Nor Azam's replacement. Late in the second half, Danial Amier was also given his chance and it is fair to say the Felda United player may have outperformed his more senior colleague despite having a shorter time on the pitch.
"Nor Azam, Partiban and Shahrel won't travel with the team because of injury. Sumareh still under suspension and will have another game to sit out after this but he will be ready for Vietnam game. These three players were with us in September but there are other players who have come in and hopefully they can adapt to the team's style," said Cheng Hoe in the post-match press conference.
In the end, the international friendly against Sri Lanka proved nothing more than a confidence booster to the players with four players getting on the scoresheet. Syafiq Ahmad was the toast of the team with a hattrick (9', 76', 89') while Shahrul Saad (14'), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (17') and Akhyar Rashid (51') also found the back of the net.
The match saw the return of Aidil Zafuan to the heart of Malaysia's defence and helped the team to their first clean sheet in five matches that included two matches against Timor Leste and one each against Jordan, Indonesia and United Arab Emirates. The leadership that Aidil brings the team ensured no lapses of concentration throughout the 90 minutes like previous matches.
"The players put out a good performance right from the first whistle with our aggressive style and a lot of combination. Sri Lanka came with a defensive tactic but we managed to break that with a very good move. But we can still improve because we need everyone competing for the 11 spots.
"There's a lot of positives things from the teams because we controlled the match and created a lot of chances which will give the team confidence when we go to Hanoi. So far in the last three matches, Syafiq showed improvement from game to game and hopefully he can maintain that form. What is important is that in the important moments, he can finish for the team.
"Always the players learn from their past mistakes. With Aidil around, his experience probably can guide the young players around him so that we looked focus in attacking and defending during the match," added Cheng Hoe.
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