Malaysia to tune up for SEA Games, AFC U23 qualifiers in China

Malaysia under-22 coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee is gearing up an important 80 days ahead, with the AFC U23 qualifiers, followed by the multi-sport Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Ong returns to helm the U22 side after being replaced in the top job by Portugal's Nelo Vingada, who will guide the country's challenge at the upcoming AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

But the former full-back is racing against time to find his best combination ahead of the AFC qualifying tournament in Thailand in July before the SEA Games comes along a month later.

"Right now, I need to find players who will be as competitive as possible. I don't have much time, but I will have to make the best of the resources I have," Ong told ESPN FC at the centralised training session at Kelana Jaya.

"I also need to identify players who are getting enough game time for their clubs. Some of my players are not regular starters for their clubs, and that could be an issue in competitive matches. But this is my first assignment with the players, and it will be a test for them as well."

Ong will have the chance to test his squad when they depart for Xiangtan on June 8 to play the China U22 national team two days later.

The Malaysians have also scheduled two friendlies against the reserve teams of Guangzhou R&F and Guangzhou Evergrande from the Chinese Super League, on June 13 and June 15.

"The senior Guangzhou sides are too strong for us, which is why I wanted to arrange a friendly with their reserves. We should still be provided with a stern test from them," Ong said.

"As we know, the level of the Chinese league is getting better. It should be a good experience for our boys."

Ong and assistant coach Brad Maloney were preparing for the Chinese matches with short passing drills at the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) headquarters this week.

Based on the selection of the 26-man squad, Malaysia do have speedy players who can hurt the Chinese to notch morale-boosting results before the AFC U23 qualifiers in July.

Syafiq Ahmad and Ariff Farhan are familiar with the short passing game from their time under Tan Cheng Hoe at Kedah, while S. Kumaahran, Syahmi Safari, Safawi Rasid and Adam Nor Azlin possess the flair to give their opponents a tough time.

Ong, who takes charge of his fourth SEA Games, carries the expectation of having to emulate the heroics of 2011 and drive Malaysia to football gold.

On home soil, he will be on a mission to redeem himself after failing to guide Malaysia past the group stages of the AFF Suzuki Cup in Myanmar last year.

Malaysia U22 squad

Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik, Syafiq Ahmad, Ifwat Akmal Chek Kassim, Ariff Farhan, S Kumaahran, Jafri Firdaus Chew, Syamer Kutty Baba, Syahmi Safari, Adam Nor Azlin, K. Kannan, Ali Imran Alimi, Danial Amier Norhisham, Ahmad Azriddin Rosli, Safawi Rasid, Haziq Nadzli, Ahmad Syihan Hazmi Mohamed, Danial Ashraf Abdullah, Nur Shamie Iszuan Amin, Tommy Mawat Bada, N. Thanabalan, Adib Zainudin, Ahmad Khairil Anuar Zamri, Syazwan Andik Ishak, Syazwan Zaipol Bahari, Amierul Hakimi Awang, Mohamad Raphi Azizan