KUALA LUMPUR: As widely expected, two players with Malaysian heritage who play for reigning Malaysia Super League champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), midfielder Natxo Insa and left-back La’Vere Corbin-Ong have finally been called up for the national squad’s centralised training in preparation for two upcoming international friendlies.
The two are among 15 new players who have been called up by national coach Tan Cheng Hoe for the friendly against Mongolia on March 22 (Thursday) as well as for the 2019 Asian Cup group B qualifying match against Lebanon in Beirut on March 27 (Tuesday).
Apart from Insa and Corbin-Ong, other new faces are Kedah’s Ariff Farhan Md Isa and Sabah captain Rawilson Batuil, with the other four being players who have been called up previously to join the national squad.
The four players in question who have been called up once more to prove themselves are Kelantan goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Kedah midfielder Akram Mahinan, PKNS FC’s Mahalli Jasuli and Perak defender Shahrul Saad.
The excellent showing of the national Under-23 squad who managed to advance to the quarter-finals of the AFC Under-23 Championship in China has not gone unnoticed as nine players from that squad have been called up by Cheng Hoe, namely, Haziq Nadzli, Akhyar Rashid, Syazwan Andik Ishak, Irfan Zakaria, Matthew Davies, Syahmi Safari, Safawi Rasid, Nor Azam Abdul Azih and captain, Adam Nor Azlin.
Former Kedah coach Cheng Hoe only retained 14 players from the previous Harimau Malaya squad which saw him drop nine players that includes goalkeepers Izham Tarmizi Roslan and Khairulazhan Khalid.
Others who did not make the cut were experienced defender Shahrom Kalam, Azrif Nasrulhaq Badrul Hisham, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, Amirul Azhan Aznan, Ahmad Khairil Anuar Zamri, Hadin Azman and Syamer Kutty Abba.
After the friendly against Mongolia who are 189th in the Fifa world ranking, Malaysia, ranked 175th, will leave for Beirut on March 25 (Sunday) for their final group B match.
After five matches, Lebanon top group B with 13 points, followed by North Korea in second with 8 points, with Hong Kong third with 5 points. Malaysia are fourth with only 1 point to show for and are out of contention for a place in the final round.
List of 29 players called up for national team’s centralised training;
Goalkeepers: Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Haziq Nadzli, Hafizul Hakim Khairul Nizam Jothy
Defenders: Fadhli Shas, Fazly Mazlan, S Kunanlan, Adam Nor Azlin, La’vere Corbin-Ong, Irfan Zakaria, Matthew Davies, Kiko Insa, Rawilson Batuil
Midfielders: Safiq Rahim, Nazmi Faiz Mansor, Afiq Fazail, Natxo Insa, Akram Mahinan, Ariff Farhan Md Isa, Syazwan Andik Ishak, Nor Azam Abdul Azih, Shahrul Saad, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor, Mahalli Jasuli, Syahmi Safari
Forwards: Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, Darren Lok, Safawi Rasid, Syafiq Ahmad, Akhyar Rashid.