NATIONAL chief coach K. Dharmaraj yesterday dispelled rumours that his players are playing badly in the Champions Challenge I in Kuantan because there is disunity caused by favouritism on his selection of the squad.
Malaysia lost 3-2 to France and then 3-1 to South Korea and will play Canada today, where a defeat will see them play tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
"The agree the team has not been playing up to mark, and I have also heard from many people that the cause might be due to the selection of many Junior World Cup players (eight) and that I have favoured certain players over others who were dropped.
"But there is no truth in it because I have selected the best available and I am trying out new positions for several players and that is why the team looks disjointed and not settled down after two matches.
"I was also a player once, and I will never bring favouritism into selecting players as I know it causes pain to those who are not selected," said Dharmaraj.
He also agreed that the midfield and defense is in disarray.
"With regular defender Razie (Rahim) still nursing an injury and several former key players not selected because others have overtaken them, there is bound to be some miscommunication among the players. But it is not because they are not happy with my selection process."
Midfielder-defender Shahrun Nabil and defender Baljit Singh were some of the players left out, and replaced with German-born Kevin Lim and a host of juniors.
"We also tried some things that normally we don’t do. Playing Faiz Helmi in midfield instead as a sweeper and Kevin Lim at the back were choices I had to make given the situation we are in. If we had Razie (Rahim) I could have pushed Faiz up in midfield. This (against Canada) is the only chance we have of trying out players in the group stage before moving on to the quarterfinals.”
“I am looking at sticking to our earlier game plan and positions. We have a problem at the back (defence) and are not settled yet. I have to see what the best line-up is as the matches go,” he lamented.
Malaysia's hoped hinge on the France-South Korea match at 3pm, because if the French win, Malaysia will end at the bottom of Group B and the chances are high that they will meet tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
But if South Korea beat France and Malaysia beat Canada, Dharmaraj's side will not only avoid New Zealand in the quarters, but also the semis if they go that far in the tournament.
“We also tried some things that normally we don’t do. Playing Faiz Helmi in midfield instead as a sweeper and Kevin Lim at the back were choices I had to make given the situation we are in. If we had Razie (Rahim) I could have pushed Faiz up in midfield. This is the only chance we have of trying out players in the group stage before moving on to the quarterfinals.”
For the record, Malaysia defeated Canada 3-0 in the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in March.
P W D L F A PTS
N ZEALAND 2 2 0 0 8 2 6
POLAND 2 1 0 1 4 4 3
JAPAN 2 1 0 1 4 8 3
IRELAND 2 0 0 2 2 4 0
P W D L F A PTS
CANADA 2 1 1 0 6 5 4
S KOREA 2 1 1 0 6 4 4
FRANCE 2 1 0 1 5 5 3
MALAYSIA 2 0 0 2 3 6 0
April 28: REST DAY.
April 29: Group A: Ireland v Japan (5pm), New Zealand v Poland (7pm).
Group B: South Korea v France (3pm), Canada v Malaysia (9pm).