BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifiers draw was completed, one group stood out. Group G saw the involvement of four Southeast Asian teams; Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, on top of the single Middle Eastern side UAE.
The result has ensured that Malaysia's qualifiers matches will all take place no further than the region, save for their away match against UAE in March 2020.
According to Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe, these ASEAN-centric match-ups are a boon to his side, as he told the press following the draw event in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday evening.
"This is the best possible draw, as no one had expected one group to consist mostly of ASEAN countries. We are most familiar with the other ASEAN teams especially Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Of course UAE are the toughest team and the favourites.
"Playing against ASEAN countries will ignite the rivalries and derbies, fans love this. But more importantly, it means not having to travel too far [for away matches] and the time difference will not be too big and will not require extensive adjustment on the players' part," said the former Kedah boss.
But he wants his charges to stay focused on their task of playing at the continental level, while eyeing a chance to hold friendly matches against the best Asian sides who will be passing by the region during the qualifiers.
"This is one of the biggest stages of world football, I want the players to take it as a good experience and exposure, while at the same time producing positive results.
"I need to sit down with the coaching staff to figure out certain things, especially friendly or test matches. Maybe teams who come to ASEAN may stop over and we'll get the opportunity to play them," said the 51-year old trainer.
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