Malaysia cut eight players, finalise 20-man squad for SEA Games
Datuk Ong Kim Swee admits it was his "toughest" ever Southeast (SEA) Asian Games selection after dropping eight players from his national under-22 squad, ahead of the football tournament, which starts on Monday.
Amierul Hakimi Awang (Terengganu), Raphi Azizan (PJ Rangers), Danial Ashraf (Kelantan), Sean Eugene Selvaraj (Negeri Sembilan), Dominic Tan (Johor Darul Ta'zim), Tommy Mawat (Sarawak), Ahmad Azriddin Rosli (Felda United) and Ahmad Khairil Anuar (Perak) were the octet trimmed from the training camp.
With the exclusions, the coach finalised his 20-man squad for the competition, which begins with the opening Group A match against Brunei at Shah Alam Stadium.
"I had to make the best decision based on the alternatives we had in every position," Ong told ESPN FC.
"Amierul will, however, remain with the team in case of any injuries to our goalkeepers. We are following the SEA Games rule, which dictates only goalkeepers can be changed during the tournament."
There were initial fitness concerns to forwards N. Thanabalan and S. Kumaahran, but Ong confirmed both players are showing steady signs of progress.
Malaysia will have one more training session before the opening match against Bruneians.
Ong was also worried that some of his players were suffering from fatigue after playing 11 matches in 36 days, due to the gruelling domestic campaign.
"I have let them off with light sessions in the first three or four days. I also plan to rotate the players in every game, so lethargy and fatigue should not be a problem," he said.
The Malaysians, who did well last month to qualify for January's AFC U23 Championship in China, are expected to deliver three points against ASEAN minnows Brunei in front of their home crowd.
But Ong reaffirmed his mantra that his players will take nothing for granted.
"If we take our opponents lightly, then surely things will not go our way. Brunei are an improving team and we will treat them like all our other opponents. I am happy with our overall preparations, but there are some things to touch up," Ong said.
Having led the team in three previous SEA Games editions, the 46-year-old ex-national team full-back says the motivation is bigger to go all the way on home ground.
"Playing in Malaysia, the motivation is definitely bigger to win it for our fans. I also hope that they will come in full force to inspire the players in all our games," he said.
Malaysia last clinched the SEA Games football gold in 2011 under Ong.
Since then, they finished fourth in 2013 before crashing out in the group stages in Singapore two years ago.
After Brunei, Malaysia will play Singapore (Aug. 16), Myanmar (Aug. 21) and Laos (Aug. 23) at Shah Alam Stadium.
Malaysia SEA Games squad
Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik (Kedah), Ifwat Akmal (Kedah), Syafiq Ahmad (Kedah), Ariff Farham (Kedah), Akhyar Rashid (Kedah), Jafri Firdaus Chew (Penang), Syamer Kutty Abba (Penang), S. Kumaahran (Penang), Haziq Nadzli (JDT), Safawi Rasid (JDT), Adib Zainuddin (Felcra FC), N. Thanabalan (Felcra FC), Adam Nor Azlin (Selangor), Syahmi Safari (Selangor), Matthew Davies (Pahang), Nor Azam Abdul Azih (Pahang), Daniel Amier (Felda United), Irfan Zakaria (Kuala Lumpur), Syazwan Zaipol (PKNP FC), Syazwan Andik (JDT II)
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.