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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Malaysia starlets to 'comprehensively' prepare for 2018 AFC U23

Malaysia U23 coach Ong Kim Swee in Thailand
Ong Kim Swee and Brad Maloney are preparing Malaysia for Thursday's friendly against Myanmar at Shah Alam Stadium.

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) have promised their rising stars a "comprehensive" preparation for January's 2018 AFC U23 championship in China.

Datuk Ong Kim Swee's men defied all odds to qualify for the regional championship for the first time after topping their Group H in Bangkok, which contained hosts Thailand, Indonesia and Mongolia.

Their success came without several of the nation's best-known young players, and despite Ong having only five days of centralised training with his 22-man squad before they for the qualifiers.

"More room will be made for this development team ahead of the AFC U23 championship next year," FAM secretary-general Datuk Hamidin Amin said upon the squad's arrival home in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

"We want them to prepare comprehensively because there is this championship, and also the Asian Games football competition next year."

Missing from Ong's squad were the likes of Pahang's Matthew Davies and Safawi Rasid, of Johor Darul Ta'zim. Top teams were reluctant to release their players due to a hectic domestic schedule.

But after sealing the AFC U23 berth, Ong is looking ahead to the Southeast (SEA) Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur next month with confidence.

"To qualify for the AFC championship is a success, but we have the SEA Games to focus on after this. There will be pressure to win it on home soil, but I believe the boys will take it as a positive responsibility," Ong said.

"Even though I did not like how our preparation went in Bangkok, we had to find a solution to the problem, and the boys did it. The SEA Games will be a test of character for them, but I am sure they will rise to the challenge."

At January's U23 Championship, Malaysia will take their place alongside Oman, Iraq, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Australia, North Korea, South Korea, Thailand, Syria, Vietnam, Jordan, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Hamidin also assured the former national senior coach that he is likely to stay on to guide the team, having cleared hurdles to qualify.

"With the blessing from the executive committee members, I am sure that Ong's contract will be renewed once it runs out end of this year. We will also reward the players RM6,000 each for helping the team qualify," Hamidin said. 

Ong's squad will next turn their attentions to the SEA Games' centralised training from Aug. 6.

At the tournament, the 2011 champions are in Group A along with Myanmar, Singapore, Laos and Brunei.

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