JDT players miss start of Malaysia camp for Asian Cup qualifier
Six Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) players were missing as national training began, due an internal club meeting, as head coach Nelo Vingada prepared Malaysia for the crucial AFC Asian Cup qualifier away to Hong Kong on Oct. 10.
Safiq Rahim, Amirulhadi Zainal, Darren Lok, Nazmi Faiz Mansor and Safawi Rasid were all absent when national camp started on Wednesday, but checked in 24 hours later, ahead of the squad's departure on Thursday evening.
Striker Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, also of JDT, is the only injury absentee due to a groin problem.
Malaysia defender Shahrom Kalam, who is likely to start in the absence of the suspended Aidil Zafuan, is adamant the team must be switched on from the opening whistle to end their winless streak under new boss Vingada.
"Looking at our predicament, we have to take the game to them from the offset. Attack is the only way for us to get a result that will keep us in the hunt for qualification," Shahrom told ESPN FC.
"But at the same time, we must not abandon our backline. We didn't take our chances against them in the first game. If we amend that, we can come away with a win."
The nations played out to a 1-1 draw in an ill-tempered match at Hang Jebat Stadium on Sept. 5, with Aidil and Rizal Ghazali red carded in the dying stages by Australian referee Chris Beath.
Shahrom called upon his teammates to keep cool heads, even when the going gets tough at Hong Kong Stadium.
"We must have high discipline, and control ourselves better in these kind of situations. But we have learnt from that game to allow another incident happen again."
Vingada, meanwhile, says Malaysia are facing the "game of their lives" as they battle to stay in the hunt for qualification from Group B.
"We have to fight for qualification and make this situation possible because this is the game of our lives. We leave to Hong Kong on Thursday and will have more time to train over there. There is four days for us to recover so it is not an issue," Vingada said.
"Rizal and Aidil are suspended, but we have other players who can help the team. With these players, we can make a good result."
Only a victory would suffice for Vingada's side, who are bottom of Group B with only a point out of a possible six from two home matches.
Malaysia lost 2-1 to an under-strength Lebanon side in their first qualification match on June 13, before salvaging a 1-1 draw when Hong Kong missed an added-time penalty.
The Harimau Malaya were supposed to play North Korea on Oct. 5, but the Asian Football Confederation postponed the match for a third time after Malaysian authorities placed a travel ban on nationals travelling to the Republic.
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.