National coach Tan Cheng Hoe was probably tossing and turning in his bed last night over the two options given to him by the FA of Malaysia (FAM).
Entrusted with preparing Malaysia for the pre-World Cup, he has to consider very carefully his course of action.
FAM, it is learnt, are giving Cheng Hoe two choices, and which he is required to decide by today.
The options are that Cheng Hoe be given four or five days with the national team before their Group G match in March against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or find a date outside the Fifa international window in January.
The second option means playing with uncertainty, taking a gamble as there may be no other dates outside the Fifa window. And no M-League teams would be happy to release their players for national training when it is outside the Fifa window. These teams, themselves, need to do pre-season training as the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically affected their players’ fitness.
Sounding more like a “beggar can’t be chooser”, Cheng Hoe said: “Any window is good for the national team.”
But deep inside, he knows that the national team, who had looked slick and potent in powering to second place in their pre-World Cup group earlier, are getting worryingly rusty.
It seems it has been ages since Cheng Hoe’s men got together and trained. The last time they did so, was in November last year. They had a training camp from Nov 3-19, played Thailand on Nov 14 and Indonesia on Nov 19.
Another thing that worries Cheng Hoe is that Malaysia’s pre-World Cup rivals have been “more” active in their preparation despite Covid-19.
“I am concerned that the other teams have been preparing well, especially the UAE (Malaysia’s next opponent in March). They have just appointed a new coach (Jorge Luis Pinto), and have a good training camp with three or four warm-up matches.
“Even Thailand have started their training with matches against local clubs, and they have their All-Star competition. Vietnam’s national team have also been in training with their best players.
“If our national players aren’t playing or training together, it is very hard for them to gel as a team and develop rhythm.”
For this year, Cheng Hoe was supposed to gather the national players, after the Malaysia Cup final on Nov 22, for centralised training. But that is not going to happen after FAM cancelled the Malaysia Cup competition due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After five matches, Malaysia look good, currently second in Group G after winning three times.
Cheng Hoe’s team are scheduled to play the UAE in Dubai and Vietnam in Bukit Jalil in March before traveling to Bangkok to take on Thailand in June. But it now looks increasingly difficult for Harimau Malaya to regain their momentum when their rivals seem better prepared.
Given the coronavirus-induced situation that the national team are in, compared to their rivals, FAM’s two options appear to be Hobson’s choice to Cheng Hoe.