FRIENDLY MATCH: Coach dismisses claims of national team in crisis
NATIONAL coach K. Rajagobal brushed aside suggestions he is under pressure to end the national team's winless run of seven international matches when they face lowly Sri Lanka in a friendly at Shah Alam Stadium today.
Rajagobal stuck to his previous claim of wanting to test as many players as he can to ensure Malaysia retain the AFF Cup later this year.
Malaysia have not won an international match since beating Taiwan 2-1 in a World Cup qualifying Asian first round first leg match in Bukit Jalil on June 29 last year and have drawn their only international this year (1-1) against the Philippines in Manila on Feb 29.
"As a coach obviously I don't want to lose. But we have to think positive all the time. What matters most is the AFF Cup in November," said Rajagobal after the team managers' meeting at Wisma FAM in Petaling Jaya yesterday.
"I have the backbone of the team but I also need to test other players in case of injuries. People come too fast to conclusions. Just because we drew with Philippines does not mean it's a crisis.
"We went there and played well. It was an entertaining match despite the condition of the pitch. The focus now is on tomorrow (today). We will go there to play and win but we must respect the opposition."
Sri Lanka, ranked 181st on Fifa's world ranking list to Malaysia's 156th, may seem ideal opponents to end the winless run but the South Asians won the last of eight meetings between the two countries in 2007 which is Sri Lanka's first and only success over the national team.
In Sri Lanka's last visit here in October 2000, Malaysia won 2-0 at the Merdeka Stadium and 3-0 in Petaling Jaya while the Norizan Bakar-led national squad that visited Colombo in March 2007, won 4-1 in the first game before going down 2-1 in the second game.
Rajagobal has excluded players from Kelantan and Terengganu who were involved in the AFC Cup in midweek and has instead called up eight uncapped players in Sarawak goalkeeper Sani Anuar Kamsani, Kedah midfielder Azmizi Azmi, Felda United full-back Nizam Abu Bakar, Sabah and Sarawak youngsters Rozaimi Abdul Rahman and Ashri Chu Chu, Young Tigers A striker Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Pahang and T-Team forwards Azamuddin Akil and Faiz Subri.
Ahmad Shakir Ali, Amirizdwan Tajudin, G. Jeevananthan, Helmi Remeli, Shahrom Kalam, Shahurain Abu Samah, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and K. Gurusamy collectively only have 19 caps between them but Malaysia also have a few experienced players on hand.
Pelita Jaya striker Safee Sali, the country's only foreign-based player, should lead the line with Shakir while captain Safiq Rahim and Amar Rohidan provide a wealth of experience in midfield along with winger S. Kunanlan.
The returning Aidil Zafuan Radzak, whose last international was that win over Taiwan, should slot in seamlessly into the defence alongside Fadhli Shas, Mahalli Jasuli and Asraruddin Putra Omar.
Farizal Marlias should be the man between the sticks while the left-wing is a toss up between Shahurain and Wan Zack.
Sri Lanka's last international outing was in December at the South Asian Football Federation Cup where they failed to make the semi-finals.
SQUAD -- Goalkeepers: Farizal Marlias (Negri Sembilan), G. Jeevananthan (Selangor), Sani Anuar Kamsani (Sarawak)
Defenders: Fadhli Shas, Mahali Jasuli (Young Tigers A), Aidil Zafuan Radzak, Amirizwan Taj Tajuddin (Armed Forces), Shahrom Kalam (Perak), Azmizi Azmi (Kedah), Helmi Rameli (PKNS), Asrarudin Putra Omar (Selangor), Nizam Abu Bakar (Felda United)
Midfielders: S. Kunanlan, Shahurain Abu Samah (Negri), Bunyamin Omar, K. Gurusamy, Safiq Rahim (Selangor), Amar Rohidan (Kedah), Ashri Chu Chu (Sarawak), Rozaimi Abdul Rahman (Sabah), Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor (Tigers)
Forwards: Safee Sali (Pelita Jaya), Ahmad Hazwan Bakri (Tigers), Ahmad Shakir Ali (Negri), Azamuddin Akil (Pahang), Faiz Subri (T-Team).