Syria hold the key to resolve the FA of Malaysia’s (FAM) predicament over the clash of dates for their Asian Zone final round qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics and the SEA Games Under-23 football competition in Indonesia.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary Alex Soosay said that only the Syrian FA could resolve the problem.
“The AFC has no objections. It is the onus of the FAM to get their counterparts to agree on the change of dates and if it is a mutual consent then, we can all come to an agreement to amend the fixture,” said Alex yesterday.
The FAM have written to AFC and the Syrian FA over the matter and are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping to hear a favourable reply soon.
National Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee, who handles the Harimau Muda A team, has been given the mandate to take charge of both the assignments (Olympic qualifiers and SEA Games) but the former international will find it almost impossible to field his best team for the two separate competitions because of the tight playing schedules.
The SEA Games football matches will kick off on Nov 7 and the final is on Nov 22 while Malaysia’s campaign in the Olympic qualifiers begins with an away match against Japan on Sept 21 followed by two home matches against Syria and Bahrain on Nov 23 and 27 respectively.
Malaysia, who won the SEA Games gold medal after a lapse of 20 years in 2009, will start as the favourites in Indonesia and assuming they qualify for the final (on Nov 22) there is no way they can play the Olympic qualifying match against Syria in Kuala Lumpur the following day (on Nov 23).
Under FIFA competition regulations the players must have 48 hours of rest after an international game.
The FAM are in a quandary and may have have to find other options including placing an Under-23 “B” team and a coach on standby for their SEA Games campaign in Indonesia.
The FAM have proposed that their home match against Syria be pushed forward by one day from Nov 23 to 24.
But Syria, who are scheduled to play Japan away next on Nov 27, may not be too keen with the change because they would have only two days to acclimatise in Japan before the match.
If Syria rejects the proposal then it is up to the FAM to decide on plan B. There are a few options and one is to form a “B” Team or for Kim Swee to juggle his players between the SEA Games and the Olympic qualifiers. It is going to be messy but it is now up to the Syrian FA.
Kim Swee is currently with the National Under-23 squad in Slovakia. A total of 30 players left for Slovakia on July 23 for a training-cum-playing stint against Slovakian Division One clubs and are scheduled to return home on Aug 28.
Kim Swee said that the SEA Games matches would be a good build-up for the players and felt that the only possible way for him to handle both assignments was for AFC to reschedule the dates for the Olympic qualifiers against Syria (Nov 23) and Bahrain (Nov 27).
The expectations are high on Kim Swee’s boys to qualify for the final at the SEA Games but for the Olympic qualifiers they will definitely find life much tougher in the final round (last 12) after having defeated Pakistan (2-0 on aggregate) and Lebanon (2-1 on aggregate) in the opening two rounds.
Asia have 3.5 slots for the London Olympics. The 12 winners in the second round are divided into three groups of four teams each for the final round and the matches will be played from Sept 21-March 14. The group winners qualify for the London Games.
The second-placed teams will then play off at a centralised venue from March 25-29 and the winners will face an African side for a place in the Olympics.
For the record, Malaysia have only qualified twice for the Olympics – in 1972 (Munich) and 1980 (Moscow).