By NIK NAIZI HUSIN and SHAMSHUL FITRI - KUANTAN: Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah wants results and has told national coach Datuk K. Rajagopal to stop experimenting with the side.
In fact, he believes Rajagopal has had enough time to identify the best players for the AFF Suzuki Cup, which begins on Nov 24. The national side have failed to impress in recent friendly matches, losing 1-0 to Vietnam and 2-0 to Thailand.
Rajagopal has been dismissive of the poor results, saying they were of no significance.
But the team’s poor run has seen them drop even further in the FIFA rankings to number 163 in the world, their worst position yet.
Tengku Abdullah said yesterday that Rajagopal must identify the actual cause for Malaysia’s defeats in the two friendly matches.
“There is cause for concern. The tinkering must end. He should know his starting lineup by now,” he said. “Stop the experimenting and identify the first XI. The Suzuki Cup is just around the corner and we need to be at our best.”
Tengku Abdullah has reason to be concerned as Rajagopal has spent the better part of the year specifically preparing for the Suzuki Cup, apparently without much success. The coach had called up as many as 66 players as he continues to tinker in an indecisive manner.
“If we frequently change the players, they will never be compatible with each other,” Tengku Abdullah said at an event to mark the birthday of the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah, at the Darul Makmur Stadium. Malaysia are drawn in Group B with Indonesia, Singapore and Laos while Group A comprises Vietanam, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar.
Malaysia open their Suzuki Cup campaign against arch-rivals Singapore on Nov 25. They play Laos three days later with the crunch match against Indonesia on Dec 1.
However, Tengku Abdullah said failure to field the preferred first XI in friendly matches did not mean that Rajagopal had got it entirely wrong.
“The objective is to identify new players but we need a winning momentum to lift the team ahead of the tournament. These defeats are bad for team morale. He has had more than enough time to determine his lineup,” he added. “We are the defending champions and must be able to put up a team strong enough to retain the Cup.”
In Kuala Lumpur, Rajagopal hoped all the negativity surrounding the team would end ahead of their final preparation.
“No coach wants to lose. The recent results come as a reality check but I know what is going on in the team,” said Rajagopal after giving a motivational talk to 50 Felda players who will be undergoing a three-week stint at the Cardiff City Football Academy in Wales.
He added that the national team will play two more friendly matches — against Hong Kong (Nov 14) and Bangladesh (Nov 20) — before the Suzuki Cup. “I’m confident we will see an improvement this time. I know exactly who will feature in the first XI and those who will play the supporting roles,” said Rajagopal, who is expected to announce the 22-man squad a day before the tournament.