OPTIMISTIC: Stronger line-up should deliver a quarter-final spot
THE second-leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Shanghai again sees Malaysia drawn in a tough group with Asian juggernauts Hong Kong. However, national team assistant manager Azlan Ishak remains optimistic the team will clinch a quarter-final berth this time around.
Azlan said the team, who will also be joined in Group D by Taiwan, will feature a strengthened line-up for the tournament which starts on Saturday with six changes being made from the squad that competed at the season-opening Borneo Sevens at the start of the month.
He, however, said the team, who finished 10th in Sabah when they failed to get past the group stage after losing to Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates, will still maintain their all-local policy with no imports.
"We have a much stronger team than at the Borneo Sevens and I believe these boys will be able to deliver in Shanghai," said Azlan.
"Despite still being young, the players we are bringing in have much more experience at this level and will give us composure which we had been lacking in Sabah.
"For the moment, beating Hong Kong will still be tough as they are in a different class from us. However, I am confident we have the quality needed to win against Taiwan.
"We have a good idea of their (Taiwan's) playing style after our panel of coaches saw them in action in the first leg and have a clear idea about what we need to do.
"A single win from either matches is all we need to make the quarter-finals, however, I consider it to be a big bonus if we can progress further than that with our all-local squad."
The return of Cobra's K. Dineshwaran to the side will bring much needed physical strength to the team while pacey Bandar Penawar duo Zulkifli Azmi and Nazreen Fitri Nazruddin are expected to boost Malaysia's attack.
The team will continue to be captained by Dineshwaran's clubmate Syahir Asyraf Rosli.
A notable inclusion in the squad is 19-year-old winger Anwarul Hafiz Ahmad who shone at the recent Asian Under-19 Division Two tournament in Colombo, Sri Lanka where the UiTM player notched tries in both matches.
"Anwarul has caught our eye since at the under-16 level and his recent performances shows he is maturing as a quality player.
"We feel he will give us more attacking options in Shanghai which was lacking in the first leg."
The team, in centralised training at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, will leave for Shanghai on Friday.
The draw -- Group A: Japan, Kazakhstan , Thailand; Group B: South Korea, Philippines, Singapore; Group C: China, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka; Group D: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia.