Malaysia eye U23 Asian Cup semis for Olympic qualification

By Hieu Luong   April 1, 2024 | 11:57 pm PT
Malaysia eye U23 Asian Cup semis for Olympic qualification
Malaysia U23 team celebrate the 2-1 victory over India in a friendly match on March 22, 2024. Photo by FAM
Malaysia, Vietnam's opponent in group D of the 2024 U23 Asian Cup, aim to reach the semifinals for Olympic qualification.

According to regulations, the top three teams in the U23 Asian Cup will directly qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The fourth-placed team will play the fourth-placed team in the U23 African Cup for the remaining spot.

"I believe Malaysia under the guidance of coach Juan Garrido can make history," Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Datuk Hamidin Amin told the New Straits Times.

Malaysia have participated in the U23 Asian Cup twice, with the best result being quarterfinals in 2018. In 2022, the team were eliminated from the group stage with three losses, including a 2-0 defeat against Vietnam.

This time, FAM has prepared the team more carefully with many international friendly games. In March, Malaysia played two games against India, winning 2-1 and drawing 1-1. On April 1, Malaysia's squad of 26 players arrived in Qatar, a fortnight earlier than the main event, to adapt to the weather and play two friendly games against China and Qatar.

Coach Garrido will miss four key players due to injury: goalkeeper Rahadiazli Rahalim, defenders Azam Azmi and Ruventhiran Vengadesan, and midfielder Richard Chin. In addition, striker Arif Aiman Hanapi could not attend because his club Shimizu S-Pulse in Japan did not release him.

Garrido also wants the players to cope with immediate difficulties, including hot weather in Qatar and pressure from fans.

"The coaching staff will protect the players, but they also need to face those difficulties themselves," Garrido said. "If they can't do that, they can't become professional players."

Malaysia will play their opening match against Uzbekistan on April 17, then face Vietnam on April 20 and Kuwait on the 23rd. Runners-up last time around, Uzbekistan are considered the strongest in the group and set to secure a place in the quarterfinals.

The 2024 U23 Asian Cup will take place from April 15 to May 3.

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