Players fitness a concern

File photo: Tan Cheng Hoe

KUALA LUMPUR: The fitness factor is the main concern national football team head coach Tan Cheng Hoe has ahead of their campaign in the second round of the 2022 World Cup/ 2023 Asia Cup Qualifier that will begin in March next year.

Cheng Hoe said this arose because the national players lacked competitive action due to the absence of international matches and the number of matches in the M-League being limited, besides the 2020 Malaysia Cup being called off. all the result of the Covid-19 pandemic which has taken a heavy toll on sports worldwide.

Compared to 2019, he said intensive preparations saw the Harimau Malaya achieve their best momentum wherein they took second spot in Group G after notching important wins against Indonesia and Thailand in November.

“As coach, I am worried about the situation of the team. It is certainly a big performance gap because we (Malaysia) have three more important matches but not even one time we had centralised training or any international match this year.

“Certainly, we are worried about the safety and health of the players, but in football, no action for a long time definitely can affect performance overall. On top of that, the mental and physical aspects because the league has been postponed many times forcing players to train on their own at home,” he told Bernama today.

The 2019 season saw the Harimau Malaya notch nine victories in 13 matches played, including Tier 1 friendlies since emerging as runners up in the AFF Cup 2018, with four of the nine wins against teams ranked much higher.

Malaysia are scheduled to face United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Vietnam on March 25 and 30 before taking on Thailand in June.

However, a packed 2021 calendar considering the M-League starts in February means the national players can only be called up for centralised training in the middle of March ahead of the Fifa international calendar that starts on March 22.

Cheng Hoe admits the situation poses additional challenges that he is forced to face in preparing the best team despite UAE and Vietnam having already started preparations earlier.

“If one were to think it is going to be hard it will be but as coach, I take it as a challenge and need to think positive. Seeing the other teams having made intensive preparations, so I must have faith in my players.

“I hope they (players) also can prepare themselves physically and mentally for the packed 2021 schedule so that they are ready if called up for centralised training,” said the 52-year-old coach. – Bernama