NATIONAL Under-22 captain Irfan Fazail is hoping his teammates will continue to remain motivated and confident ahead of their AFC Qualifiers campaign, which starts on Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar.
The team, comprising mostly members of the Young Tigers squad who play in the S-League, are brimming with confidence after their impressive European and China stints which were followed by a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Qatar in a friendly in Shah Alam last weekend.
Malaysia, however, have a difficult opening Group G match against South Korea on Saturday (kick-off 3.15pm) before taking on the Philippines two days later, Taiwan on June 28, Vietnam on June 30 and then Myanmar on July 3.
"We have the quality to make a huge impression in Yangon. I believe everyone in the team is motivated after the win over Qatar," said Irfan at Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya yesterday.
"If we can reproduce that performance, a good result against Korea is not impossible. We need a good start to gain confidence.
Vietnam, who have two German-based players in their squad, and Korea will start favourites to clinch the two spots for the tournament proper next year.
Malaysia should have little problem against the Philippines, Myanmar and Taiwan, who were all unimpressive in recent friendly matches.
The Philippines, comprising players from their domestic league, were beaten 9-0 by Thailand while Myanmar suffered embarrassing results against university teams in South Korea.
With Korea being the overwhelming favourites, Malaysia and Vietnam are likely to fight for the second spot.
Coach Ong Kim Swee, together with the 23-member squad, will leave for Yangon today.
Kim Swee dropped four defenders - Zubir Azmi , Mohd Raphi Azizan Mariappen, Muhd Syazwan Tajuddin and Wan Ahmad Amirzafran Wan Nadris -- who are all injured, on Tuesday.
Malaysia, however, could be punished for a fragile backline in the absence of key players who are either injured or suspended.
Kim Swee has tried out options with winger-turn-defender Fandi Othman and Shahrul Saad likely to play as centre-backs in the absence of the suspended Fadhli Shas and injured Amer Saidin.
Fadhli will miss the opening match while winger Wan Zack Haikal Wan Noor is serving a three-match suspension.
THE SQUAD -- Goalkeepers: Mohd Farhan Abu Bakar, Mohd Izham Tarmizi Roslan, Muhamad Ilham Amirullah Razali; Defenders: Mohd Fadhli Mohd Shas, Amer Saidin, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, Shahrul Mohd Saad, Mohd Aminuddin Mohd Noor; Midfielders: Nazmi Faiz, Gary Steven Robbat, Mohd Irfan Fazail (capt), Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria, Ashri Chuchu, Muhd Ariff Farhan Mohd Isa, Fandi Othman, Mohd Azzizan Nordin, Mohd Rozaimi Abdul Rahman, Mohd Azrif Nasrulhaq Badrul Hisham, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Mohd Noor; Forwards: Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, A. Thamil Arasu, Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim, D. Saarvindran.