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PETALING JAYA, April 14 -- The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) is keeping its fingers crossed for Harimau Malaya to receive their COVID-19 vaccine shots even though it is not compulsory for the squad to participate in the 2022 World Cup / 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in June.
FAM secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam said the governing body did not want any untoward incidents to happen to the national team which would be leaving for Bahrain on May 19 for two friendly matches in the Middle East country before departing for Dubai, UAE to resume the campaign which was suspended since early last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The vaccine is taken as a protection for the squad. We do not want to lose half of our players when we arrive for the main challenge. If we look at the AFC tournament (Asian Football Confederation Champions League) last year, several teams were forced to withdraw as there were clusters in the teams,” he said when met by reporters at Wisma FAM here today.
“The vaccine is to ensure the safety of our players who would be travelling and when we arrive in Dubai, there is no worry of an internal cluster. It is optional and is very important,” he added.
Stuart however said FAM is still discussing with the Youth and Sports Ministry (KBS) as well as the minister, Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican to get Harimau Malaya vaccinated.
“I am confident Datuk Seri Reezal and KBS will do their best for us, we have to give time to KBS and the ministry to sort it out.
“We have several back-up plans and we will wait for the announcement by the minister,” he said.
After the vaccination programme for the first group of athletes and officers involved in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics yesterday, Reezal Merican said KBS could not assure the national football team would get their jabs before leaving for the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Stuart said Harimau Malaya would gather on May 16 to prepare for friendly matches against two Middle East teams, Bahrain and another team awaiting confirmation.
The matches were selected by chief coach Cheng Hoe according to the group qualifying schedule against UAE on June 3, followed by Vietnam (June 11) and Thailand (June 15).