Malaysia coach protecting prodigy Akhyar as fans call for teenager's swift elevation to the starting line-up

Those wanting Akhyar Rashid to start international matches for Malaysia may have to wait a little longer as Tan Cheng Hoe insisted he was not going to risk over-exposing the Harimau Malaya starlet.

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Tan did not have a memorable first outing on Thursday as Malaysia were held 2-2 at home to lowly Mongolia, who are made up of semi-professional players, but the 18-year-old Akhyar had the 10,000 fans on hand on the edge of their seats every time he ran at defenders.

Akhyar was among the few Malaysians who could hold their heads high following a debut goal that looked like it was going to test goalkeeper Munkh-Erdene Enkhtaivan before it took a deflection.

Akhyar is a young talent and we can’t expose him too fast. I feel he needs to go game-by-game

- Tan Cheng Hoe

Some are asking why he did not start the match, while there are calls for him to be handed a first international start when Malaysia visit Lebanon in Beirut for the final 2019 Asian Cup qualifier, which is a dead rubber.

“Akhyar is a young talent and we can’t expose him too fast. I feel he needs to go game-by-game. It’s something that happens in many parts of the world,” said Tan after the draw with Mongolia.

“We’ll have to see how things go in training over the next few days and decide what role Akhyar will play.”

Some top managers at various clubs and national teams have historically opted to slowly ease raw talent into senior football.

The youngster is starring for club and country

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson even kept Ryan Giggs away from press interviews until he was 20 – almost three years after he made his debut.

Akhyar has not quite appeared as a 90-minute player yet, being more lethal for Kedah when brought on from the bench. There have been games where he ran out of steam in the second half.

Tan, however, pointed to the starting role he played for Malaysia at the AFC Under-23 Championship in January.

“If we see him at Kedah, he does well when he introduced as a substitute, but he has had some good matches when starting for the Under-23s,” said Tan.

“He’s still young. I believe in the future he will become better … knowing when to pass, when to run and all that.”

Akhyar rose to prominence in 2017 after making the jump to the Kedah senior team after playing for their Under-21 President’s Cup squad.

Having never represented Malaysia at any level prior to making the Malaysia Super League (MSL) sit up and take notice, Akhyar was called up to the Malaysia Under-22 squad for the AFC Under-23 qualifiers and the 2017 SEA Games.

Like Tan, under-22 Ong Kim Swee also felt Akhyar was not ready to start matches then. He had several appearances off the bench at the qualifiers and the SEA Games before starring in China last January.