It’s back on! At least from one perspective after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced the new dates for the remainder of the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifications that was postponed because of the global pandemic due to Covid-19.
March and June of 2021 are not the dates for Malaysia to complete their Group G matches, of which there are three remaining in United Arab Emirates (away), Vietnam (home) and Thailand (away). Currently sitting in second spot in the group, Malaysia has a real opportunity not only to advance to the next stage of the World Cup qualifiers but also confirmed a spot in the Asian Cup.
But 2020 has been a year of frustration for Tan Cheng Hoe and his coaching staff as they were left without a single fixture to play as the pandemic went into overdrive in Malaysia in March 2020 when the national team was initially due to travel away to UAE.
Next year will also present a new set of challenges for Cheng Hoe with the postponed 2019 AFF Championship (AFF Suzuki Cup) being set to be played in April, in what will be directly in the middle of the domestic season of local competitions, which meant that player selection will be more difficult.
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“With the announcement, at least now we start thinking of a schedule and training program for 2021. We have already missed one year plus of training camp. Players are still playing but after a lapse of one year not being together, it’s definitely tough.
“It will be a big challenge next year because of the tight schedule for the players and coaches. We need a good planning and at the same time a good cooperation between FAM and MFL regarding the league. We have World Cup qualifier and AFF so I will need to sit down and discussed with FAM what’s best for the national team,” Cheng Hoe told Goal.
Initially there were plans for the national team to have a training camp in the last two months of this year but that had to be scrapped to make way for the Super League and Malaysia Cup to be completed. So when the news broke on Thursday that the Malaysia Cup had to be cancelled, it meant a wasted opportunity for the national team.
All of Malaysia’s rivals in the group in UAE, Thailand and Vietnam had various training camps already this season while Cheng Hoe has only seen his charges with their respective clubs for a good 12 months to date. While others have had the opportunity to finetune and adapt, Malaysia were left behind.
“As a coach there’s frustration of course. If you look at UAE after they appointed their new coach, they had training camp in Serbia with 3-4 friendly matches. They also played yesterday against Tajikistan after having faced Uzbekistan in October. If you look at Group G, Malaysia is the only one without any training camp after November 2019!,” quipped an irked Cheng Hoe.