POTENT TEAM: Rajagobal has more options for AFF Cup
MALAYSIA answered their critics with a 6-0 demolition of Sri Lanka on Saturday for their first victory of the year but coach Datuk K. Rajagobal warned his team not to get carried away with the result.
Rajagobal tested several fringe and uncapped players and they impressed him with their composure and confidence. Their performance provides Rajagobal with more options ahead of the AFF Cup in November.
A lethargic Safee Sali was replaced by former Kuala Lumpur striker Ahmad Hazwan Bakri in the 70th minute and the substitute made the most of the opportunity by scoring a hat-trick in his first senior appearance.
Young Tigers winger Wan Zack Haikal Wan Noor earned a memorable second senior cap by scoring a first half brace while Pahang's Azamuddin Akil also scored his first international goal.
Among the other fringe and newcomers tested were Rozaimi Abdul Rahman, Bunyamin Umar and Shahurain Abu Samah.
The victory is a huge boost for Rajagobal, who was criticised by the fans and football officials for his unorthodox methods in preparing his team for the AFF Cup.
Malaysia had not won in seven matches, mostly against lowly opponents and many were losing their patience.
In Sunday's match, Malaysia started erratically as they could not impose themselves against an aggressive Sri Lanka side, who, despite being ranked lowly at 181st on the Fifa rankings, attacked in numbers but the homesters stamped their mark after 25 minutes.
"We may have won big but we cannot use this result as a yardstick but of course, it has raised our confidence," said Rajagobal at the Shah Alam Stadium on Sunday.
"We still have a lot to do before the AFF Cup. Upcoming friendly matches against the Philippines and Singapore will be the true indicator of the team's actual form and strength.
Malaysia play the Philippines on June 1 and Singapore, in a two-leg affair, on June 8 and 12 before the exhibition matches against Arsenal and Manchester City in July.
Rajagobal also hoped the victory would silence his critics.
"I have been testing players for options and I should have about 30 or 40 players, who are good enough to represent Malaysia, by June for AFF Cup," he said.
On the performance of Ahmad Hazwan and Wan Zack, he said they were definitely in his plans for the AFF Cup.
"Ahmad Hazwan was surprised when I told him to warm up because he thought he wouldn't play today (Sunday).
"He replaced Safee (Sali) and had a great game. Safee was probably tired and I decided on giving Ahmad Hazwan a break. As for Wan Zack, he impressed me with his composure and speed.
"I was also impressed with substitutes Rozaimi and Azamuddin as they made a difference in the second half. I have created a healthy environment where everyone in the training squad has an equal chance of playing in the AFF Cup."
Sri Lanka will be playing Selangor at the Shah Alam Stadium at 8.45pm today.