JDT defender Aidil Zafuan isn't rival for Malaysia start - Khairul Helmi Johari
Kedah's Khairul Helmi Johari doesn't see the return of JDT rival Aidil Zafuan to Malaysia national duty as a threat to his position in central defence.
Nelo Vingada's squad are preparing for a 2019 AFC Asian Cup Group B qualifier against Lebanon on June 13.
Many things have changed since Malaysia's only other game of 2017 when they drew 0-0 away to the Philippines in a March 22 friendly.
After the appointment of the Johor Crown Prince (TMJ) as new Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president three days after that game, Datuk Ong Kim Swee was replaced by Portugal's Vingada, who started duties on May 25.
Eleven Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) players were called up in the 26-man squad, including the formerly retired quartet of Aidil, Safiq Rahim, Amirulhadi Zainal and S. Kunanlan.
"I don't think Aidil's return would affect my chances to be in the first 11," Khairul told Berita Harian.
"In fact, it would strengthen our central defence because he is an experienced defender on the international stage. We have been training well under Vingada, where the focus has been more on physical strength for now."
Based on recent performances, it would be Aidil who still has work to do to prove that he deserves a starting spot ahead of Khairul.
The Seremban-born centre-back conceded a contentious, last-minute penalty against Ceres-Negros in an ASEAN zone semifinal, second leg defeat on Wednesday, that resulted in JDT crashing out of the 2017 AFC Cup on away goals.
Khairul Helmi, meanwhile, has been going great guns with Kedah, and was part of the FA Cup victory over Pahang on May 20 when they prevailed 3-2 in the final at Shah Alam Stadium.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.