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National coach Tan Cheng Hoe (second from left) and captain Nor Azam Azih (left) with Tajikistan coach Usmon Toshev (third from left) and captain Nazarov Akhtam at a press conference in Bukit Jalil yesterday. PIC BY OWEE AH CHUN

TWO consecutive home matches from next week will make or break Malaysia’s faltering 2022 World Cup qualifiyng campaign.

And today’s international friendly against Tajikistan at National Stadium in Bukit Jalli could hold the key to Malaysia’s results against Thailand (Nov 14) and Indonesia (Nov 19).

Harimau Malaya’s pre-World Cup had got off to a great start with a 3-2 away win against Indonesia. But it was followed by two successive defeats against United Arab Emirates (1-2) and Vietnam (1-0) which relegated Tan Cheng Hoe’s team from top to fourth place in Group G.

Cheng Hoe and his boys now have no other options but to beat Thailand and Indonesia to prevent the rest of the group matches from being a mere procession.

The match against World No 116 Tajikistan will give Cheng Hoe the opportunity to formulate a potent team for the “must win” matches against Thailand and Vietnam.

Victories for Cheng Hoe’s men in these two matches will push them up the group and reignite their fading hopes. Malaysia trail Thailand, Vietnam and UAE in the group.

“This is a test match against a good quality team (Tajikistan) who are higher than us in the rankings. We’ve had a few days of training and I hope to see more from the players,” said Cheng Hoe yesterday.

“It’s not easy for us to get stronger teams for friendly but we’ve managed to get one (Tajikistan) this time. We have to keep playing against such teams for us to improve.

“Against Tajikistan, our coaching staff will be looking for the type of players to continue to implement our style of play. We are also looking to increase our game tempo.

“From the three matches that Tajikistan have played in the qualifiers, they have shown great potential particularly in being able to beat Kyrgyzstan.”

Prior to the match against Vietnam last month, Malaysia recorded an easy 6-0 win against Sri Lanka but subsequently produced a sub-par performance in Hanoi

On the other hand, a “more difficult” friendly against Jordan prior to the pre-World Cup matches in September saw Malaysia producing far more combative performances in the first two group matches.

The hope is that a match-up against a team ranked 42 spots higher than Malaysia in the world, will have the same impact in getting the national players to perform at a higher level like they did two months ago.

One area which Cheng Hoe is definitely looking to improve is the midfield, which struggled in the away defeat to Vietnam.

Brendan Gan, Halim Saari and Syafiq Ahmad were the selection for Malaysia’s engine room on that day, and against Tajikistan, a different trio could be selected.

Brendan just joined national training yesterday after the birth of his son earlier this week and he may not be fit enough for action.

Cheng Hoe, who has two new options in Kedah’s Baddrol Bakhtiar and Johor Darul Ta’zim’s Afiq Fazail to choose from, is set to give both players a chance.

“The presences of Baddrol and Afiq will add depth to the team. In the game against Vietnam, we feel that our midfield didn’t play well and wasn’t up to the expectations.

“We will try out new combinations and also give a chance to some new players for us to find the right recipe for the match against Thailand,” added Cheng Hoe.

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