Malaysia look to dominate young Cambodia side in AFF Cup opener
Malaysia will open their AFF Suzuki Cup Group B campaign on Sunday against a Cambodia side desperate to prove a point after an eight-year hiatus from the regional showcase.
The Kouprey Blue last featured in the tournament in 2008, finishing bottom of the group without a single point.
Fast forward eight years, Datuk Ong Kim Swee's men face opponents who are brimming with young talent during a transitional period.
Speaking at the official press conference, the national boss reiterated the importance of three points at the Thuwunna Stadium against the winners of the qualification tournament.
"We need to maximise whatever we have to get a win. It will be tough against the Cambodians, but we must be ready in our own ways," said Ong, whose side haven't won an AFF Cup opening match since 2008.
Malaysia will, however, draw confidence after beating Papua New Guinea (PNG) 2-1 last Monday.
Before PNG, they had drawn 0-0 against Singapore and 1-1 with Afghanistan in other recent friendlies.
Darren Lok and Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, who were impressive against PNG, could once again lead the line against Cambodia.
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Syazwan Zainon could replace Amri Yahyah on the left flank, with the veteran slated to man the other channel.
Cambodia chief Lee Tae-hoon, meanwhile, was just happy to see his young and raw side competing in the prestigious Southeast Asian tournament.
"We haven't played in the AFF Cup for a long time, so it is good to be back. We have a relatively inexperienced squad, but we are ready for Malaysia," Lee said.
Cambodia forward Chan Wathanaka is one man the Malaysian backline must pay special attention to.
The Boeung Ket Angkor stalwart netted 22 goals to propel his side to the 2016 Cambodia League title on the final day of the season.
Most of his national compatriots are in the same age group as the 22-year-old, and Lee wants this tournament to be a springboard for the Cambodia's rising stars.
"This tournament will be a great outlet for them to show what they are made of. They are eager to impress as well, given the huge interest football generates back home," Lee said.
Malaysia will be slight favourites to beat a side looking to re-establish themselves on the regional stage.
Anything less than that three points would give Ong cause for concern, with Vietnam and co-hosts Myanmar likely to provide stiffer tests.
Vietnam and Myanmar face off after the Malaysia-Cambodia game, scheduled in the searing head of 3 p.m. local time.
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.