Dashing striker Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim is the notable absentee from the national squad for the Asian Zone Olympic qualifier against Bahrain in Manama on Sunday.
National Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee has left Syahrul behind to focus on the S-League campaign.
The Harimau Muda A squad play Gombak United in the opening game at the Jurong West Stadium on Feb 9.
“Syahrul has fully recovered from an ankle injury but lacks match fitness. I don’t want to risk him against Bahrain. It’s better he works on his fitness at home. He should be ready to travel to Singapore when we return from Manama,” said Kim Swee before their departure last night.
Malaysia need to beat Bahrain in a do-or-die match to keep alive their slim playoff hopes in Group C, which also comprises leaders Japan and Syria.
Malaysia are last in the four-team group after three straight defeats. Their remaining fixtures are against Syria at the Prince Mohammed Stadium on Feb 22 and Japan at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on March 14.
Besides Syahrul, the other three players left out from the 21-player squad are Mohd Syazwan Tajuddin, Mohd Shahril Sa’ari and Mohd Izuan Solahuddin. First choice striker Izzaq Faris Ramlan is also out as he recuperating after knee surgery.
Kim Swee said the team are better prepared to face Bahrain compared to their previous meeting when they had to rush home from the SEA Games in Indonesia. The players barely had enough rest after the hectic schedule in Jakarta where they emerged champions.
“We are better prepared. There is no rush and some of the injured players are back and we can expect a much better performance this time,” said Kim Swee.
Among the players returning from injuries are Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor, Gary Steven Robbat, Mohd Irfan Fazail, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Wan Zaharulnisam Wan Zakaria.