KUALA LUMPUR: Harimau Malaya can mount a serious challenge for the AFF Cup this year if the 10 ‘naturalised’ players, who ply their trade in the Malaysia League (M-League), are called up by national coach Tan Cheng Hoe.
Kuala Lumpur coach Fabio Da Silva said such a "golden generation" of players could bring about a change in fortunes for the national squad.
"Malaysia has it all to become the strongest team not just in the region but also Asia.
"With the presence of these naturalised players, I believe the Malaysian national team will be a team to be reckoned with at the upcoming AFF Cup.
"With all the changes being worked on by the FA of Malaysia (FAM), I am confident that the future will be bright, especially for the national team."
"We must seized this opportunity to group them together (naturalised players) because they have the experience and quality,” said Da Silva, who lead Timor Leste against Malaysia four times between 2015 to 2016 before signing up to take charge of Kuala Lumpur last season.
Based on the latest statistics, Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have the most 'naturalised' players - Natxo Insa, La’Vere Corbin-Ong, Darren Lok and Junior Eldstal.
This is followed by Melaka United who have Khair Jones and Nicholas Ryan Swirad on their books.
The rest are Matthew Davies (Pahang), Brendan Gan (Perak), Lee Andrew Tuck (Terengganu FC), and former Pahang star Kiko Insa, who recently moved to neighboring Thailand to play for Bangkok Glass.
Cheng Hoe, 50, who was promoted to succeed Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada as national coach, is now in the process of planning for the 2019 Asia Cup qualifying match against Lebanon in Beirut on March 27.
Meanwhile, Fabio pointed out that the recent sterling performance of the national Under-23 in the 2018 AFC Under-23 Championship in China recently means that there are more player options to consider for the national senior squad.
"If coach Cheng Hoe succeeds in bringing together the naturalised players and the Under-23 players as a team, I am confident Malaysia will be a stronger, more formidable team that can go all the way to win the AFF Cup this year.” he said.