National experience valued, but there will be no free rides, OKS warns
The last time the Malaysians felt it was the start of a new era, the national team was demoralised on several occasions – including the record 10-0 loss to United Arab Emirates which led to former coach Dollah Salleh’s resignation.
Yet with new man Ong in the dugout, armed with the relative security of a two-year contract, there is an air of positivity in the coaching set-up.
Current performance matters and whoever wants to play for the country must find consistency
The coaches have been spotted at league and Cup games across Malaysia looking for suitable players for the squad, but Ong insisted no drastic changes were expected for Malaysia’s final World Cup qualifying group match against Saudi Arabia on March 24.
“I need experience against Saudi. With only four days of preparation (including travel), you can’t fit in someone totally new. I don’t mean only senior players will take the field, but their experience will be crucial,” Ong told FourFourTwo.
“We have listed almost 50 players in consideration and will need to cut it down to 23. It’s not a definitive list. Whoever performs in the league stands a chance for a call-up. It doesn’t matter if he is young, a senior player or hasn’t been in the team for some time.
“Current performance matters and whoever wants to play for the country must find consistency. I can’t have players who are performing well one week and then not doing good the following week.”
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One particular name that caught FourFourTwo’s attention during the interview was Norshahrul, who some thought was out of international contention when the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) named Ong head coach.
The creative attacker infuriated Ong by refusing a call-up when the latter was in charge as interim coach in 2014. He turned up a few days later but was eventually dropped from the squad for the 2015 Asian Cup qualifier against Yemen.
Norshahrul was in and out of Dollah’s squad but never made the lasting impression he had become known for during the early years of K. Rajagobal’s tenure.
“What is in the past is history. As long as he performs well at club level and is willing to come back, I will call him up. I don’t want to keep ill feelings,” Ong said.
“Most important is which player can contribute to the squad. If I feel Norshahrul is worthy of a call-up, I will include him.”
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Ong has been set a target to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup and improve the national team’s ranking to No.140 from a current rank of No.166. Malaysia were at No.171 when Ong was appointed, but climbed the charts this month despite not playing.
The former Malaysian under-23 coach conceded it was a tough ask and reckoned the Malaysians will need to play at least 10 international ‘A’ matches yearly to come close to No.140.
“I have listed 10-12 international matches this year. We can’t plan much for now because we are not sure which Asian Cup group stage qualifying playoff we’ll be playing in. The first round of playoffs are in June and second one will be in September,” he said.
“We are talking to a few countries to play three or four matches during the Ramadhan month. I was informed that the AFF Suzuki Cup matches could be listed as ‘A’ international this time around too.
“These matches will be good for ranking points. I believe it is still a long way to get to No.140, but we are capable of improving from where we are at now.”