KUALA TERENGGANU: Malaysia will take on the best in Asia to vie for one of three spots in the beach soccer World Cup in the Bahamas next month.
It will be a daunting task for Malaysia, as they battle 11 other teams in the ‘AFC Beach Soccer Championship 2017’ Asian World Cup qualifier at the Batu Burok beach in Kuala Terengganu, which begins tomorrow.
Malaysia were drawn in Group A, along with favourites Iran, Bahrain, China and dark-horses Afghanistan, with whom they open their campaign tomorrow.
Oman, Lebanon and Thailand make up Group B, after Uzbekistan pulled out.
Group C has another hot favourite, Japan, along with the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Qatar.
The beach soccer World Cup will be played among 16 teams at the Bahamas’ capital, Nassau, on April 27-May 7.
The AFC tournament is the Asian qualifier for the World Cup.
Malaysian coach Ismail Zakaria is modest about the country’s chances, knowing, as he does, the strength of the other teams.
“We are relatively inexperienced, and will use our group matches as a great opportunity to gain exposure.
“There is a lot of development needed for the team, as could be seen from the series of friendlies we had with Japan and Thailand,” he said.
Zakaria added that beach soccer has great potential for Malaysia, as the country is naturally blessed with plenty of beaches.
Meanwhile, Afghan coach Rohullah Rastagar said the country had great difficulty in gathering a team, in view of the security situation in their war-torn country.
He said the team had a series of training sessions in Vietnam to prepare for the tournament.
“We are facing really talented teams and it will be an uphill task for us,” said Rohullah.
Coach Joao Almeida of Bahrain, who lost to Japan in the 2009 AFC final, said the sport deserves better respect and promotion, as beach soccer is an amazing game.
“It deserves better support, like many other international sports. Our country is doing its best to popularise the game,” said Almeida, who is targeting a semi-final spot.
China coach Ling Luhui sees playing four times in the group as a chance to gain experience for his young team.
“We can learn a lot by playing an extra match, as compared with the other two groups,” he said.
Coach Mhamed Hoseyn Mirshamsi of Iran, the 2013 AFC champions, said Iran is confident of going to the Bahamas, as it has a formidable team, thanks to its good development programme at home.
“We are very determined to qualify for the World Cup, after just having won an international tournament in London against more (renowned) European teams,” he said.