PETALING JAYA, May 10 – With an impeccable game sense, young Arif Aiman Hanapi’s maturity despite his age stands out and this has caught the eye of national football head coach Tan Cheng Hoe.
Cheng Hoe is ready to give the Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) striker a break with the national senior team.
The 18-year-old is already a mainstay of JDT’s first-team senior squad under Benjamin Mora and the future looks bright for the talented Pahang-born footballer when Cheng Hoe named Arif in the squad for the second phase of centralised training which begins on May 16.
The squad reports for training at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil – minus four overseas-based players – Liridon Krasniqi (Newcastle Jets, Australia), Junior Eldstal (Chonburi FC, Thailand), Dominic Tan (Police Tero FC, Thailand) and Luqman Hakim (KV Kortrijk, Belgium).
The four will join the rest of the squad in Dubai on May 20. Malaysia will play two friendly matches – against Kuwait (May 23) and Bahrain (May 28) before playing in the three Group G remaining matches in the World Cup 2022/Asia Cup 2023 qualifiers.
Malaysia’s remaining matches in Group G World Cup 2022/Asia Cup 2023 qualifiers which will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in June are against UAE (June 3), Vietnam (June 11) and Thailand on June 15.
Another newcomer for the second phase of centralised training is Penang goalkeeper Samuel Somerville who replaces the injured Khairul Fahmi Che Mat of Melaka United FC.
The goalkeeping department has been hit by a spate of injuries. Khairul is the second goalkeeper to be kayoed by injury after Terengganu’s Rahadiazli Rahalim cried off with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and is out for the rest of the season.
Somerville joins JDT’s Farizal Marlias and Selangor’s Khairul Azhan Khalid for the Middle East trip.
Others out because of injuries are striker Shahrel Fikri (Selangor FC) and defender Shahrul Saad who recently moved south from Perak FC to join Johor Darul Takzim during the second transfer window.
Cheng Hoe, however, is not letting the injuries stand in the way as he plots Malaysia’s campaign in the qualifiers.
Malaysia is currently second in the group standings with nine points – two behind leaders Vietnam on 11 points, after five matches.
Thailand is third on eight points, followed by UAE with six points (from four matches), while Indonesia is without a point after losing all five matches.