KUALA LUMPUR: Deja vu! The national football team will meet Timor Leste again following the draw for the first round of the 2022 Qatar World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifiers.
World No. 168 Malaysia, who are also 35th out of the 46 Asian countries competing in the qualifiers, will host the first leg on the second day of Aidilfitri on June 6. The return leg will be on June 11 at a venue yet to be confirmed.
Harimau Malaya head coach Tan Cheng Hoe was positive after the draw, though he warned his men to stay focused and not to underestimate world No. 195 Timor Leste, who are expected to field several naturalised players.
“We saw in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup competition how Timor Leste posed a threat going forward. There is also a possibility that they may field two or three naturalised players to boost their spirits.
“This match is also crucial for us, so I hope the players will be fully focused, not overconfident and ensure that the Hari Raya celebrations do not affect our preparations. They have to sacrifice Hari Raya this year for the sake of the nation,” he told reporters after the draw ceremony at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) headquarters here, yesterday.
During the 2015/16 World Cup and Asian Cup joint qualifiers, Malaysia and Timor Leste were drawn in Group A, with the Harimau Malaya drawing 1-1 on June 11 2015 at home and winning 1-0 away on Oct 13 2015.
Then, in the Asian Cup qualifying playoff, Malaysia met Timor Leste again, with the Harimau Malaya winning 6-0 on aggregate. However, AFC nullified the result and Timor Leste were barred from participating in the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers after being found guilty of fielding 12 ineligible players.
This means that even if Timor Leste beat Malaysia in the first round of the 2022 Qatar World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifiers, they won’t be able to progress any further in the Asian Cup qualifiers.
This time, Malaysia are among the 12 lowest-ranked teams in the qualifiers.
That’s why they have to play in the first round, with the the six winners joining the 34 highest-ranked teams in Asia in the next round, including newly-crowned Asian champions and World Cup hosts Qatar.
These six first-round matches will be the first 2022 World Cup qualifiers to be played worldwide.
In the second round, scheduled for September, the 40 teams will be drawn into eight groups of five teams each.
Only the group winners and four best second-placed teams will earn places in the third round of the World Cup qualifiers and automatic slots to the Asian Cup. – Bernama