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Nelo Vingada in race against clock for Malaysia's Asian Cup dream

Coach Nelo Vingada and Malaysia national team
Nelo Vingada will oversee his first game in charge of Malaysia in Tuesday's Asian Cup qualifier against Lebanon.

Nelo Vingada may only have been sitting on Malaysian football's hot seat for a matter of weeks, but the Portuguese coach has already taken ownership of the task that lies ahead.

The former Saudi Arabia and Jordan coach takes his team into their first game together on Tuesday night when Malaysia meet Lebanon in their opening AFC Asian Cup qualifier at Johor's Larkin Stadium.

But, despite a limited amount of time working with his new players, the 64-year-old has no plans to ease himself into the role.

"This is the team that represents Malaysia, whatever happens," he told ESPN FC.

"It is my team now. I have the responsibility now and I don't escape this responsibility, but I know how I work and what I want from the team and the kind of organisation I want.

"Maybe later we can present some better solutions."

Time has been short for Vingada, who was appointed on May 15, and he goes into the game still learning about his squad.

But he is no stranger to working with teams on short time frames.

In 1996, he was parachuted in to take over the Saudi national team just one month before the kickoff of the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates following the firing of his predecessor Ze Mario after a poor performance at the Gulf Cup.

By the time the Asian Cup final was concluded, Saudi Arabia were champions.

"When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I came just one month before the Asian Cup and we won because the combination of the players was good," he says.

"Maybe we were lucky some times, but we won. I believe even with a lot of difficulties we can win now.

"But the most important thing is that the players believe. First they are believing in themselves and this is the most important. They feel that around them they have me as 

Vingada has worked across Europe, Africa and Asia and he knows the task at hand is different to those he has previously faced.

For a nation that has not qualified for the finals of the Asian Cup since 1980 -- apart from their appearance in 2007 as tournament cohosts -- a strong start against Lebanon will give the struggling national team a much-needed boost.

"I know I'm in Malaysia, I'm not head coach of Japan or South Korea or Saudi Arabia," he says.

"I worked as head coach in Saudi Arabia, I was head coach in FC Seoul and we are talking about completely different levels.

"But also the competition that we have to start now is to qualify the 12 teams is for the Asian teams at the lower level, so I believe it would be good to start with a positive result.

NorthEast entered on a long winless streak after coach Nelo Vingada shuffled the team formation a bit.
Nelo Vingada says North Korea are Malaysia's strongest rivals in Asian Cup qualifying.

"We have three teams looking for one place. North Korea are probably the favourites because they have good preparation. They have good players playing outside of North Korea and I played there in North Korea with Jordan. It's not easy to play there, concerning the whole environment.

"So we can look at North Korea as favourites.

"Of the others, Lebanon maybe have a slight advantage on the field, but to be honest I don't feel that Lebanon is much better than us.

"Also Hong Kong we can play them face-to-face.

"I think it's an open group. If there was only one team qualifying it would be a hard group, but with two qualifying from each group so it's more open for all of the competitors."

Malaysia's second match in the final round of qualifying is due to take place on Oct. 5 -- a rescheduled game against the North Koreans in Pyongyang. 

Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch


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