JOHOR BAHRU: Harimau Malaya head coach Kim Pan Gon is seen to want to start preparations for the 2023 Asian Cup with a proactive step by making Turkmenistan the first opponent in their friendly match tomorrow night.
The Tier 1 international friendly action at Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) home turf, Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Iskandar Puteri, is the national team’s first match after being eliminated in the semi-finals of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2022, in January.
Based on the world rankings, Turkmenistan led by new coach Mergen Orazov are ranked 135th while Malaysia are 145th, but the opposing team failed to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup after losing in the qualifying round in Kuala Lumpur, in June last year.
Malaysia defeated Turkmenistan nicknamed “The Green” 3-1 in Group E action of the qualifying round which took place at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
However, the national team, especially the eight new faces in it, cannot underestimate the ability of Turkmenistan under Orazov.
At just 34, the young coach who was appointed last month to lead the team to face the challenge of the 2026 World Cup qualification round starting this year, is not an ordinary manager after achieving various successes in different careers.
According to https://turkmenistan.gov.tm/en/post/69714/new-head-coach-will-prepare-national-team-turkmenistan-qualifying-matches-2026-world-cup, Orazov is a successful former futsal player at club and international level before becoming a coach at the end of his career in 2020.
Orazov, Turkmenistan’s Futsal Coach of the Year 2020, started his coaching journey in the world of football a year later when he accepted an offer as the manager of the country’s club Ahal FK and led the team to win their maiden domestic league title and two more championships last season.
With tomorrow’s match being his first as coach of Turkmenistan, Orazov must be excited to show his ability through his tactical approach which is still a mystery, thus becoming a question mark for Pan Gon what his team will face.
A draw tomorrow will be enough for Orazov to avoid a bad record in his first assignment.
Tomorrow’s clash is the second meeting between Malaysia and Turkmenistan on the international stage after the 2023 Asian Cup qualification campaign.
This time, Pan Gon is bringing a total of 27 players including nine players who played in the AFF Cup 2022 and strengthened by eight new faces such as two naturalised players Paulo Josue and Endrick Dos Santos, young defender Muhamad Feroz Baharudin and Nooa Laine.
Laine, 21, who is of Malaysian-Finnish parentage, plays in midfield for Finnish professional club SJK Seinajoki
Meanwhile, the national team’s top scorer in the AFF Cup 2022 campaign, Mohamad Faisal Halim, has the opportunity to rediscover his goal touch tomorrow after going through a goal drought in the first five Super League matches with Selangor FC this season.
Pan Gon, who got his main players back after fielding a team labelled as a ‘B squad’ to the AFF Cup 2022, is expected to make full use of the opportunity to face Turkmenistan to formulate an initial strategy in forming the best squad to face the 2023 Asian Cup.
The 2023 Asian Cup is scheduled to take place in Qatar in January 2024.
Tomorrow’s match will be the first time the Harimau Malaya will play at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium after the last time they played in Johor when they lost 1-2 to Lebanon in the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers at the Tan Sri Hassan Yunos Stadium, Larkin in 2017. – Bernama