Malaysia can build for the future instead

Malaysia is not ready for Suzuki Cup so they should be brave enough to use it as a chance to build for the future rather than go all out to win, argues John Duerden 

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That's two friendlies in four days for Malaysia and two draws against Singapore and Afghanistan.

These are all part of the preparations for the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup. We all know how important the tournament is. Win that and fans and media will forgive –or at least overlook – other ills for a while at least.

It has been a big deal for all. It remains to be seen what Thailand do in November. There has been talk of the champs sending a second string team to the Philippines given the fact that they are busy with World Cup qualifiers.

With Thailand losing all four games in the final round so far, it is possible that the War Elephants will choose to forget their earlier attitude to the tournament.


Thailand lost four of their World Cup qualifiers so far

After a result like the 4-0 loss to Iraq on Tuesday, it is possible that the Suzuki Cup may be looking a little more attractive for coach Zico and his men –a chance to win some games, some silverware and some reprieve from the series of defeats.

There is little danger of Malaysia, runners-up to the Thais two years ago, doing something similar.

It could be argued though that in some senses given the falling out with Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) and coach Ong Kim Swee, it will be almost a second-string team that takes the pitch on November 20 in Yangon against either Brunei, Laos, Timor Leste or Cambodia.

But perhaps in terms of attitude and objective, Malaysia need to approach the tournament differently. It should not be about winning the trophy.

Safiq Rahim Ong Kim Swee Malaysia

Safiq Rahim's retirement has left a huge gap in Malaysia's midfield

While the silverware would surely be nice, in this case, it is not only highly unlikely but its reflection in Football Association of Malaysia HQ would make it harder for all to see the considerable cracks around the whole set-up.

Better then that it is used as a preparation tournament for the future.

Instead of all the focus being on November, November can become a springboard for the coach to build a team for qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup and beyond. In theory, it is better to look at the getting to the United Arab Emirates and then using the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup as preparation for that.

It is a big ask, of course. Not just in terms of qualifying for the continental tournament for the first time since 1980 (though the expansion from 16 to 24 teams obviously helps) but in terms of whether such an approach can be accepted. Malaysia demands success against local rivals.

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The alternative is not that hard to imagine. After the terrible results of the last 18 months, there was the 3-0 loss in Indonesia in September.

It is hard to think of a national team in Asia that has had so much negativity around it.

This has obviously affected the fans who didn't show up at the Shah Alam for the Afghanistan game.

It has also affected the team, as is completely natural. Deprived of some of his best players from league champions Johor Darul Ta'zim and under pressure to reverse the poor run of results, OKS played it fairly safe in Singapore, sitting back and looking not to lose.

It worked. The performance was nothing to write home about but it was a clean sheet from an inexperienced team at the home of their rivals.

malaysia_vs_afghanistan_-_fam.jpg (

Malaysia only managed a 1-1 draw with Afghanistan. Photo: FAM

Against Afghanistan too, Malaysia sat back too much and deserved to fall behind against a strong and talented team. It was only when they pushed forward when the Tigers equalised, a headed goal from Hadin Azman just before the break.

It gave the hosts belief and in the second half, it was a different Malaysia –aggressive and attacking. Suddenly, there was a game. It was good to see the spirit.

Perhaps this is what Malaysia need. A time to find their identity as a football team --a chance to find an approach and strategy that works. The AFF Suzuki Cup can help in that regard.

If Malaysia go to Myanmar looking to find themselves and then do just that, then the results should be of secondary importance.

More likely is that the team will crash out at the group stage and the coach will be fired. Then the cycle starts again and starts at rock-bottom.

If Malaysia go north under pressure to win, then they are unlikely to do so.

More likely is that the team will crash out at the group stage and the coach will be fired. Then the cycle starts again and starts at rock-bottom.

There was enough encouragement in the second half against Afghanistan to suggest that there is something to build on. But such fragile shoots have to be given time and space to grow.

Before kick-off against Afghanistan, there were rumours that Malaysia would play a back three. It would have been an interesting experiment. It didn't happen and it being this close to the tournament meant that was always unlikely but it is the kind of development that could be useful.

And there could, repeat could, be an added bonus in that JDT may be more likely to get on board with this forward-thinking national team.

The AFF Suzuki Cup is too important and that is why is should not be a priority this time for Malaysia. It puts all the focus on the here and now, not the there and how.

The team is not ready. It is time to forget about winning the AFF Suzuki Cup and look beyond the short-term.

Photos: EPA