Malaysia get ‘easier’ SEA Games group

Hosts Malaysia were handed a relatively easier group at the SEA Games after avoiding Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and defending champions Thailand, all of whom can consider themselves in a group of death.

The Malaysia Under-22, who are in Group A, will also play a match less than teams in the other group as there are only five teams in Group A compared to six in Group B.

Malaysia were drawn with Singapore, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei while Group B consists of regional powerhouses Thailand, Southeast Asia’s highest ranked nation Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Timor Leste.

OKS should be happier now after the draw (Photo: Asiana.my)

On paper, Singapore and Myanmar are Malaysia’s biggest challengers for a place in the last four. The three teams will be expected to collect maximum points against Laos and Brunei.

Myanmar, who won the competition five times as ‘Burma’ – including a shared gold medal with Thailand in 1965 – will be a team to watch as they are likely to send a squad consisting largely of players that played in the 2015 Under-20 FIFA World Cup.

Myanmar finished runners-up to Thailand at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.

The team, however, may enter the competition ill-prepared. The squad was supposed to get together for centralised training on July 5 to prepare for the AFC Under-23 qualifiers from July 19-23 but only six players turned up because the clubs refused to release their players due to domestic obligations.

Malaysia have set a target on winning the men’s football gold medal, which is often described as the mother of all medals.

The team, however, may enter the competition ill-prepared. The squad was supposed to get together for centralised training on July 5 to prepare for the AFC Under-23 qualifiers from July 19-23 but only six players turned up because the clubs refused to release their players due to domestic obligations.

Teams, with the exception of Penang and Pahang, have given their word that their players would be released next week for the qualifiers and again in August for the Games, but things are far from concrete.

A tight domestic calendar sees local teams play 12 matches in 40 days right up to six days before the start of the Games on August 15.