K.Rajagobal's tinkering with the national squad has broadened the talent available to him for the AFF Cup title defence later this year to 66 players and more could be added in the months ahead.The national coach has defended the constant changes he has made to his squad for international matches, a run which stands at seven games without a win, and said this is necessary to cover for injuries and loss of form.
In the 2011 calendar year, Rajagobal utilised 49 players in 10 international matches with 21 of those earning their first cap before Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor became the latest to make his senior international in the 1-1 draw with Philippines on Feb 29.
"This has been the recipe for our success. I know I have taken risks before like against Australia (which we lost 5-0) but it is only by playing against strong teams can you see the character of the players.
"Only then will I know who can play and who cannot. I cannot just be relying on the same 20 players for every game," said Rajagobal at a press conference in Shah Alam yesterday before the national team leave for Kuching today for a friendly against Sarawak tomorrow.
The Sarawak game was planned at the last minute so Rajagobal can test more players with only those not involved in this weekend's FA Cup quarter-final ties called up, including four reporting for national training for the first time.
Rajagobal's honeymoon period with Malaysian fans following the 2009 Sea Games and 2010 AFF Cup successes ended with the World Cup qualifying elimination by Singapore last year.
But the national coach called that defeat a blessing in disguise after Singapore went on to lose all six of their group stage matches, including a recent 7-1 hammering by Iraq.
"If we had gone through and lost 7-1, I know I would be 'dead' and would not be here talking to you. I knew the team were not ready for the next stage and if we had qualified for the next round and lost 5-0, 6-0, it would have served no purpose.
"We can take criticism but as long as we are moving in the right direction, success will come to the team," said Rajagobal.