Ong Kim Swee says 'door still open' for missing Malaysia U23 stars
Coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee says Malaysia's rising stars have plenty of room for improvement, despite a morale-boosting 2-0 friendly victory over their Myanmar counterparts, ahead of Monday's departure for the 2018 AFC Under-23 qualifiers in Bangkok.
The Malaysians will face Indonesia, Thailand and Mongolia in a four-nation qualifying tournament next week, with the target of advancing to January's AFC U23 Championship in China.
Despite a disrupted build up, and a fierce storm that saw debris from Shah Alam Stadium blow onto the pitch, Malaysia accounted for Myanmar in their final warm up ahead of a hectic schedule of competitive matches.
In addition to the AFC qualifiers, Malaysia will host the men's football tournament for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games from Aug. 14 onwards, with Singapore among the teams in their group.
"It was a good result [on Thursday night], but we have to know that our opponents Indonesia and Thailand are different from Myanmar," Ong said.
"We were nervous getting the ball out of our penalty area, but that is also due to us not playing together for some time. The players also looked tired after playing so many matches.
"Nonetheless, there is still plenty to do because we are not a finished product."
Malaysia will face Indonesia on July 19 in their first qualifier, which shapes as their most important game.
With Thailand favoured to win the group, it could be down to a battle between Malaysia and Indonesia to be one of the best five runners up, which would earn a spot in China in January.
Ong's latest success, which comes after a victory over the reserve team of Guangzhou Evergrande on June's China tour, was achieved, despite the absence of half a dozen key players. Johor Darul Ta'zim, Pahang and Penang all refused to release their players for the week-long training camp and U23 friendly.
The former senior national boss added that he would wait until the last moment to finalise his 23-man squad for Thailand.
He said: "I do not want to talk about the status of a few players that have yet to report. The door is still open for them, so it is up to them. If they are interested to show up, I have time before I choose my 23 men bound for Bangkok on Monday."
After opening their Group H campaign against Indonesia on Wednesday, they face host nation Thailand on July 21, and minnows Mongolia two days later.
In August's SEA Games, Malaysia are on a collision course with arch rivals Singapore, and are also in the same group as Myanmar.
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