BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Although Malaysia U-16 have been drawn in what is considered to be one of the toughest groups in the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship, head coach Lim Teong Kim has downplayed the seemingly arduous challenge that will be faced by his boys.
In the draw event that was held at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday afternoon, Malaysia, who are also the hosts of the finals, have been drawn against Tajikistan, Japan and fellow Southeast Asian side Thailand in Group A.
Speaking to the press after the draw, Lim, who is also the director of Malaysia's National Football Development Programme (NFDP), declined to put too much stock in the draw results, saying that their plans and target of qualifying for the U-17 World Cup in 2019 as one of the AFC Championship semi-finalists will remain the same.
"They (Japan and Thailand) are in our group so we have to play against them. There's no two ways about it! We want to qualify for the [U-17] World Cup regardless of who are in the group and we have to play with confidence. It's still our goal even though we've been drawn against Japan.
"Our plans were not formulated today, we've been developing it four years ago and the boys are well-prepared," noted the former Bayern Munich youth trainer.
According to Lim, his side still have a few advantages; such as prior knowledge of their opponents and also the home advantage. Malaysia faced Japan in the qualification stage last year, a match they lost 4-0.
"We know how Thailand play but they also know our game, so it's not an issue.
"We've faced Japan before so there's no problem; our weaknesses have been rectified. There's still a chance as we are the host country," he remarked.
The tournament will be held from September 20 to October 7; involving three venues in the Klang Valley area; the Bukit Jalil National Stadium where Malaysia will play all their group matches and the final match will be held, the Petaling Jaya City Council Stadium and the UM Arena.
Malaysia will kick off the tournament against Tajikistan on September 20, before facing Thailand three days later. Their final group match; against Japan will be held on September 26.
In the previous edition back in 2016, Malaysia finished bottom of Group C with only one point.
The other two Southeast Asian sides in the finals; Vietnam and Indonesia have been drawn together in Group C.
The tentative schedule for the 2018 AFC U16 Championship finals in September. Can Malaysia reach the semis, and qualify for the U17 World Cup? pic.twitter.com/jLWMyWyLdC— Zulhilmi Zainal❤💛 (@zulhilmibzainal) April 26, 2018