KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s best chance to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup Finals could be in jeopardy if the 2020 Malaysian League is only allowed to resume between October and November. This is because if the world football governing body, FIFA, and the Asian Football Confederation resume the qualifying matches in November, the national squad players could find themselves struggling in terms of match fitness. “Usually we have two or three friendlies before a match but if the permission (to resume play) only comes after October, it is not only difficult to organise games, but the performance of the players also needs to be considered, ” said former national team coach B. Sathianathan. “Imagine if for six to seven months a player doesn’t have a training programme or play high-intensity matches, and within a short period of time is required to play a competitive match? I don’t think this will be good for the national team or the players.” Tan Cheng Hoe’s side are now in second place with nine points from five out of eight matches played in Group G of the second-round qualifiers. Vietnam currently lead with 11 points with Thailand third (eight), the United Arab Emirates (six) and Indonesia in last place without any points. The Harimau Malaya were scheduled to face the UAE in Dubai before hosting Vietnam at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in March, however, the matches were postponed following the Covid-19 pandemic. “The games against the UAE and Vietnam are crucial, and at the same time, Malaysia have a good chance. If play only resumes in October, the coach will have trouble assembling a fit team, ” added the current Selangor coach. The last time Malaysia played in the Asian Cup was when they co-hosted the 2007 edition, however, qualification for the competition has eluded the national side since the 1980 edition in Kuwait. Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government was willing to allow the M-League to resume post-MCO – at the latest by November – albeit certain standard operating procedures such as playing in empty stadiums. — Bernama

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