MALAYSIA have a poor record in qualifiers, and the script is highly unlikely to change when they start their campaign against Austria in the World Cup Qualifier in Invercargill, New Zealand, today.
The world ranking also tells a story of its own, as 16th ranked Malaysia will be up against New Zealand (8), China (13), Austria (20), Scotland (24) and Wales (29) for the single ticket to the World Cup next year.
The only hope is pedigree, as among the six hopefuls, only Malaysia and New Zealand have played in World Cups while the rest will be looking to break the duck.
Malaysia have played in five World Cups, and the best finish was fourth in 1975. The Kiwis have played seven times, and their best finish was seventh in 1982, 1975, 1973 and 1971.
Coach Tai Beng Hai has taken a gamble, discarding several tried-and-tested players for three Junior World Cup rookies.
And the best bet among the three is 18-year-old Faizal Shaari, who scored eight goals in the Junior World Cup.
|Faizal Shaari is touted as the most talented among three Junior World Cup players who have been picked for the squad.|
"Faizal has talent and showed progress in the Champions Challenge II and the Australia and New Zealand friendlies. And I believe, for his age, he is matured enough not to freeze in the Qualifier," said Beng Hai.
Malaysia's defence is porous as Madzli Ikmar, Amin Rahim, C. Baljit Singh and Ahmad Kazamirul did not display proper understanding in the Five-Test series against Australia.
But Beng Hai also tested Jiwa Mohan in defence, and it did stabilise matters, and the experienced player could make a big difference if he is given more time at the back
Between the posts, Beng Hai can rely on S. Kumar, who is among the best goalkeepers in the world.
But there is not a single player who can marshal the midfield with confidence, and this is where Malaysia are going to face a tough time taking the ball out of defence, and delivering it to the strikers.
"The first target is to qualify for the final, and I am confident my men are game for it. After that, only 70 minutes separate us from the World Cup, and I am sure the team will give their best," said Beng Hai.
TODAY -- China v Scotland, New Zealand v Wales, Malaysia v Austria.