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By Ahmad Nazrin Syahmi Mohamad Arif
KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 - Ahead of Malaysia's clash with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers in June, national team head coach Tan Cheng Hoe admitted that UAE, ranked 74th in the world, hold the advantage.
Cheng Hoe said everything, including in terms of weather and timing, favor the UAE who were selected as hosts by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the remainder of the Group G second round matches of the qualifiers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thus derailing the home-and-away format.
The 52 -year-old handler said the UAE were very serious in hunting for a slot to the finals of the 2023 Asian Cup as they played five friendly matches in the six months since last October, winning two, losing two and recording a draw.
Acknowledging that the UAE were ahead in terms of preparation, Cheng Hoe said that he was fully aware that as as a coach, his job is to always think of the best ideas in providing the strongest team even with limited resources.
"I don't want to give excuses, but the prevailing factors are in favour of the UAE. That is why I emphasise that the preparation of the national team is very important," he told Bernama.
While the UAE and two other teams, Vietnam and Thailand, who are also playing in the qualifying campaign, have made preparations in advance, the Harimau Malaya just completed their first central training camp in 16 months in Johor Bahru, recently.
According to Cheng Hoe, although Vietnam did not play any international friendlies, the squad coached by Park Hang-Seo had undergone three to four central training camps, as well as warm-up matches against several local clubs.
Thailand, he said, had also prepared the team in their own way, including holding a series of friendly matches with local clubs.
"We are aware that Malaysians, especially local supporters, have high hopes. In fact, the coaches and I and the players want to create something in this campaign because we know this is the best opportunity to go (advance) to the third round.
"It's just that we just held a training camp for a week in Johor and as a coach, I don't even want to give an excuse because we know the (COVID-19 prevention) SOP (standard operating procedures) are very strict for the sports sector which prevented us from conducting training," he said.
Malaysia, ranked 153rd in the world, will face the UAE on June 3 before facing Group G leaders Vietnam (June 11) and closing out the qualifying campaign against Thailand on June 15.
The champion of each group and the four teams in the second best position will automatically qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup and the third round of the qualifying campaign to compete for a slot at the 2022 World Cup.