Datuk Ong Kim Swee has officially announced his first 23-man Malaysia squad, since he was officially handed the national team job on a permanent basis in January.
Harimau Malaysia are scheduled to face Saudi Arabia in their final World Cup qualifying match on the 24th of March, before taking on Macau in an international friendly, five days later.
These are two major games, and Ong will be looking to battle skepticism amongst fans by winning both games comfortably – as reflected in his squad selection. He’s opted for an attacking-minded team, featuring the eight players from Johor DT alone. But while squad selection is contingent upon his own plans and strategies for both games, here are five surprising exclusions from the latest Harimau Malaysia squad.
1) Norazlan Razali – Selangor FA
Let’s not kid ourselves, Norazlan Razali has played a monumental part in keeping Selangor at the top of the table this year, considering the grave number injuries they’ve had, particularly at the back. In the absence of Robbie Cornthwaite, Selangor have been meddling around with different defensive partnerships, but all of them have looked relatively rocky so far. Norazlan though, has stepped in with fantastic saves to rescue them during moments of despair. As decent as the likes of Farhan Abu Bakar and Khairul Fahmi have been, it would be an overstatement to suggest that they’ve been better than Norazlan over the last 5 weeks, at the very least.
2) Hadin Azman – Felda United
He’s young, yes. But he’s also tenacious and hardworking, on and off the ball. Hadin Azman has been a major spark within Irfan Bakti’s set-up in Felda United and he’s forged a strong understanding with the likes of Zah Rahan Krangar and Lutfulla Toraev. The good thing about Hadin is that he’s got the vision needed to break opposition teams, and more importantly, he’s got a fantastic eye for goal as well. The ex-JDT player has scored two goals in the MSL, while notching one more in the FA Cup. Inexperience is always a worry, but considering that Hadin appears to be unperturbed by any challenge on an off the pitch, he could have been a real breath of fresh air for Ong Kim Swee.
3) R. Gopinathan – Selangor FA
This one is pretty baffling to be honest. Much of Selangor’s attacking forays in 2016 have involved Gopinathan – he’s brough a complete new dimension to their offensive department. Gopi is always excellent with the ball and when he hits top speed on the flanks, it’s difficult to stop him from getting past you. Yes, he can be predictable at times. But his ability to switch flanks and his desire to run at defenders is precisely the sort of element that’s been lacking in the national squad over the past few years. In eight games for Selangor, Gopinathan has already scored two – a decent tally for a midfielder.
4) Faiz Subri – Penang FA
Okay his name isn’t on this list because of ‘that’ goal. Faiz Subri was instrumental in Penang’s fantastic Premier League run last year, and has taken upon the same role in 2016. Take his performance against Pahang for example; it was more than just about his two terrific goals. There was so much of confidence in him, and he’s definitely not afraid to try his luck, every time he spots the tiniest bit of opportunity. He’s been mainly used as an attacking midfielder, but the ex-Kelantan man is capable of playing anywhere across the front three. On a comparative, Faiz has looked far better than Norshahrul, who happens to be the only recognized striker in OKS’ latest squad.
5) Azniee Taib – Johor DT
If you were present during Johor DT’s FA Cup win over Negeri Sembilan, you’d understand this particular conundrum. When JDT pushed for his return during the off-season, they knew what they were getting into their squad – a talented winger that has pace and isn’t afraid to make runs and unleash shots, as he sees fit. He has seamlessly integrated into the JDT set-up and it’s due in no small part to his footballing brain. Azniee is a smart footballer – and his on-pitch intelligence helps him get into key positions, which was largely evident when he spearheaded JDT’s 4-1 win over Negeri. The understanding he seems to have forged with Fazly Mazlan is encouraging as well. Azniee may not be ready to be in the first eleven, but he’s more than capable of coming on as a substitute and injecting pace when OKS needs it the most.
What are your thoughts on Datuk Ong Kim Swee’s latest squad? Let us know by dropping a comment below!