KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia stand a good chance of qualifying for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Peru after being drawn with two ASEAN teams in Group A of the 2023 AFC Under-17 Asian Cup to be held in Thailand in June.
In the draw for the biennial tournament held in Bangkok today, Malaysia have been grouped with hosts Thailand, Yemen and Laos.
With the top two teams from the four groups advancing to the quarter-finals, the young national team should, on paper at least, have no problems doing so and their real test should come in the last eight.
Should the Harimau Muda emerge top or second in Group A, they are likely to meet three of the region’s top teams from Group B, namely South Korea, Qatar, Iran or Afghanistan in the next stage.
Only the top four teams from the 2023 AFC Under-17 Asian Cup will qualify for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup that will be held in Peru at the end of this year as representatives of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Harimau Muda head coach Osmera Omaro insisted that his boys will not take their Group A rivals lightly because not only do their three opponents have their own strengths, but hosts Thailand will have the upper hand due to their home ground advantage.
“I also know about Yemen. They were very impressive during qualifying... and Laos have a team that will pose a problem because they (the Laos players) are very highly disciplined.
“We are comfortable playing against teams from Asia and Southeast Asia. So, we have a good chance but we must take advantage of this draw and try to go as far as we can,” he said in an audio recording shared with reporters today.
In the 2023 AFC Under-17 Asian Cup, Group C comprises China, Saudi Arabia, Australia and runners-up of the previous edition Tajikistan. Defending champions Japan are in Group D with Vietnam, India and Uzbekistan.
For the record, the national Under-17 team’s best achievement in the AFC Under-17 Asian Cup came in 2014, when they lost 2-1 to Australia in the quarter-finals in Bangkok.
Last October, the Harimau Muda created a sensation when they qualified for the Asian Cup by trouncing Indonesia 5-1 in their final Group B match of the qualifiers at the Pakansari Stadium in Indonesia.
The Harimau Muda also went unbeaten in the Asian Cup qualifiers to top Group B with 10 points. -Bernama