KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 – The Harimau Malaya go into the AFF Suzuki Cup fray with the squad further crippled after two players – goalkeeper Khairul Azhan Khalid and flanker Faisal Halim tested positive for Covid 19 and are currently undergoing a 10-day quarantine in Singapore.
The news comes just hours before Malaysia open their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign with a match against Cambodia at the Bishan Stadium on Monday.
Malaysia are drawn in Group B with Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. After Cambodia, the Harimau Malaya will face Laos on Dec 9, followed by Vietnam (Dec 12) and Indonesia on Dec 19.
However, for national football coach Tan Cheng Hoe, the show must go and he will make do with the 22 players remaining in the squad. Already it by a spate of injuries from his original 28-player squad, Cheng Hoe is not pushing the panic button.
For him, whoever, gets to play in his team, will have to go into the match against with a positive attitude – knowing that the first match is always a ”difficult one” for any team, let alone Malaysia.
Lack of centralised training due to the tight Malaysia Cup schedule with the final played on Nov 30 (Tuesday) was another draw back for Cheng Hoe.
Malaysia arrived in Singapore on late Friday (Dec 3) and the players had their first workout a day later.
Cheng Hoe is set to throw in naturalised Malaysian Guilherme De Paula. The Brazilian-born striker who is now with Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) has come in for a lot of criticism from netizens but Cheng Hoe has his reasons for keeping faith in him.
”Football is game where you need the right players for your match strategies. Some players can shine in the local league but flop at a bigger stage. It takes off from here. I hope things will work for De Paula and also the team,” said Cheng Hoe from Singapore after watching the Singapore-Myanmar match in Group A.
The late inclusion of JDT’s rising star Arif Aiman after teammate Mohamadou Sumareh cried off at the last minute due to a groin injury and ”family commitments” could well turn out to be a tournament for Arif to cherish.
Originally left out of the team, Arif, who is only 19, was voted the Most Valuable Player (MPV) at the Malaysian Football Awards. He also walked away with two other awards – Best Young Player and Best Striker.
Kedah’s Baddrol Bakhtiar, also recalled to the national squad due to his impressive form with the Red Eagles, was also a winner at the National Football Awards – winning the Best Midfielder and top local striker (7 goals in the Super League).
The two could just be the stars in Singapore in Cheng Hoe’s match strategies in Singapore while Faisal and Khairul Azhan are in quarantine.

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