Coach Pan Gon looks on bright side despite pullouts

PETALING JAYA: Harimau Malaya head coach Kim Pan Gon is ready to make do with what he has as he tries to cobble a decent team for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2022, which will be held from Dec 20 to Jan 16, 2023.

Faced with the withdrawal of several key players from the squad that ended Malaysia's 42-year wait to qualify on merit for the Asian Cup Finals in June, the South Korean is determined to look on the bright side instead of wallowing in self-pity.

In fact, Pan Gon admitted that this is the first time in his coaching career that he will be managing a squad without so many key players.

"Yes, in my career, this is my first time… I have to be positive, (at least now) I can see more players who we have been scouting and I can see them in person and help them.

"We can (also) extend (the call-up for the national centralised training camp) to more players and there will be more competition in the national team. So I want to remain positive," he said when met during the national team's training session at Wisma FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) in Kelana Jaya, here, recently. 

FAM had previously announced an initial list of 41 players for centralised training but, after discussions and agreement between FAM, Pan Gon and the clubs involved, 12 players pulled out for various reasons, including personal matters, family commitments and injury woes.

Among them were seven Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) players - Shahrul Mohd Saad, La'vere Lawrence Corbin-Ong, Muhammad Nazmi Faiz Mansor, Arif Aiman Mohd Hanapi, Muhammad Akhyar Abdul Rashid, Matthew Davies and Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad.

After the withdrawal of the 12 players, FAM roped in Selangor FC left back Fazly Mazlan but, unfortunately for them, Kuala Lumpur (KL) City FC's Muhammad Akram Mahinan and Declan Lambert yesterday requested that they be left out due to personal matters.

Based on the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players; Appendix 1: Release of Players to National Team Article 6 states that it is not compulsory to release players outside an international window or outside the final competitions included in the international match calendar.

As the AFF Cup is being held outside the FIFA international window, Pan Gon said he and his coaching staff will do their best to whip the Harimau Malaya team into shape before they take on their Group B rivals Myanmar, Laos, two-time champions Vietnam and four-time winners Singapore. 

"It's normal to say that we want to be champions but we will try our best to achieve the best result possible. We will fight to give the fans something they can be proud of," he said.

As part of their preparation for the AFF Cup, the Harimau Malaya squad will play two Tier 1 international friendlies against Cambodia at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Dec 9 and Maldives at the Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium in Cheras on Dec 14.

Meanwhile, Pan Gon said his squad also plan to hold a test match against the national Under-23 side on Friday (Dec 2). The Under-23 side, also known as Harimau Muda, are coached by E. Elavarasan, who is the assistant to Pan Gon in the senior team. -- BERNAMA

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