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Melaka: Malaysia midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar believes the U-22 side’s runners-up finish in the football competition at the recently concluded SEA Games can be an inspiration for the senior squad, ahead of Tueday’s vital 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Hong Kong.

After their first Group B tie with DPR Korea was postponed, Kedah FA player Baddrol and his Harimau Malaya teammates got their third round campaign underway in June but would lose 2-1 at home to Lebanon following a late brace by Rabih Ataya.

Q: It must have been hard to take losing to a 94th minute winner against the Lebanese, what did you make of the game?

A: We were very unlucky to lose a match in this manner, it was literally the last kick of the game. Overall, I think we didn't play badly considering our new coach and his staff had only recently joined. I feel a point for each side would have been a fair result, but we lost focus, especially in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the match.

Q: Next up is Hong Kong at home, can you tell us your thoughts on the game and the side you will face on Tuesday?

A: The next match against Hong Kong is vital. It is crucial that we get the three points to get our campaign into gear and accelerate from there. Hong Kong have improved a lot over the years, especially with the addition of several naturalised players into their squad.

If I'm not mistaken, they have between eight to nine nautralised players now, so we know the quality is there. We have had good preparations for this game, though, and I believe in my teammates and our ability to get the victory on home turf.

Q: Tuesday’s match against Hong Kong comes a week after Malaysia earned the silver medal in the 2017 SEA Games, how has that success impacted on the Malaysian football?

A: It is is a good time for football in Malaysia right now. With the U-22 team doing so well in the SEA Games, people are fully behind the national team and I strongly believe football is on the rise again in Malaysia.

If we can build on this momentum in the senior side, then I am sure we can take Malaysian football to even greater heights.

Malaysia's U-22 squad earned praise for their showing in the recent Kuala Lumpur 2017 SEA Games. 

Q: It’s early in the campaign still, but how confident are you that Malaysia can qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup?

A: Its important that we get as many points as possible to ensure that we qualify without having to depend on other teams’ results. Every team in the competition is capable of qualifying, so its vital we take our chances.

Q: You’ve now appeared in over 50 international games for your national team and over 370 matches for your club Kedah FA, how does it feel to be one of the sporting heroes of your country?

A: It’s nice to have people looking up to you, and thinking highly of you, but I never see myself that way. My job is to do well for my club and country, and everyday I strive to do that.

Q: Who are the most important players for Malaysia at the moment, in your opinion?

A: I would say at the moment the Selangor pair of goalkeeper Khairul Azhan and midfielder Amri Yahya, as well as Indra Putra from Kelantan.

Q: And finally, what do you think the Malaysia national team and Malaysian football in general need to do to rise up the rankings and return to past glory?

A: First of all: hard work. We also need to be more competitive and we need more international matches against high quality teams, and we should be aspiring to get results against those teams. If we can get more regular games to test ourselves against the best, then we can improve and start to rise again.


Photos: AFC, MASOC