WINDS OF CHANGE IN NA­TIONAL SQUAD

Set to play im­por­tant role in pro­mot­ing game in coun­try

New Straits Times - - Sport - AJITPAL SINGH ajit­pals­ingh@nst.com.my

WITH the ex­pected re­turn of for­mer cap­tain Safiq Rahim and three oth­ers from re­tire­ment, the na­tional team are ex­pected to be se­ri­ous con­tenders for qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the 2019 Asian Cup un­der the guid­ance of new coach Mario Gomez.

Safiq, along with S. Ku­nan­lan, Amir­ul­hadi Zainal and Aidil Za­fuan Radzak, who all play for for­mer AFC Cup win­ners Darul Ta’zim, re­tired from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball last July but the four are ex­pected to be re­called if deemed still good enough to don na­tional colours.

“I am not rul­ing out the pos­si­bil­ity of com­ing out from re­tire­ment and rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try again.

“But for now, I want to con­cen­trate on lead­ing Darul Ta’zim to glory this year,” said Safiq re­cently.

Malaysia are in Group B in the Asian Cup Qual­i­fiers and will play North Korea on June 8 at an undecided venue.

The other teams are Hong Kong and Le­banon, and only the top two will qual­ify for the tour­na­ment proper.

Un­der newly elected FA of Malaysia (FAM) pres­i­dent Tunku Is­mail Sul­tan Ibrahim, the na­tional team will also play an im­por­tant role in pro­mot­ing the sport in the coun­try.

FAM gen­eral-sec­re­tary Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin said the na­tional team’s train­ing ses­sions and matches will not only be cen­tralised in the Klang Val­ley from now on.

“They will train and play matches in dif­fer­ent states in a move to pro­mote the game.

“Of course, venues out­side the Klang Val­ley need to meet sta­dium reg­u­la­tions of the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion for matches,” said Hamidin yes­ter­day.

The na­tional team nor­mally train at Wisma FAM in Ke­lana Jaya and play their matches at Shah Alam Sta­dium or Na­tional Sta­dium in Bukit Jalil.

But there have been rare oc­ca­sions where matches were played out­side the Klang Val­ley.

“Last year’s Asian Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion play­off matches against Ti­mor Leste were played at Larkin Sta­dium in Jo­hor Baru while the friendly against Ma­cau was held at Hang Je­bat Sta­dium in Malacca.

Hamidin said FAM will fi­nalise mem­bers of com­mit­tees by next week while the de­ci­sion to re­move Frank Bern­hardt as the na­tional Un­der-22 coach will be dis­cussed af­ter the Ger­man re­turns from the Dubai Cup on Thurs­day.

“Our first ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee meet­ing will be in Sabah but we will only fi­nalise the dates in two days time,” Hamidin added.

Bern­hardt is said to be shell­shocked over the de­ci­sion to re­place him with Ong Kim Swee as his con­tract runs un­til the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games in Au­gust.

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