By Gabriel Tan
Defending champions Malaysia face a tricky route to the semi-finals after being drawn alongside rivals Singapore and Indonesia, as well as the qualifying round runners-up, in Group B.
And their preparations for the region's most-illustrious tournament took a slight blow on Tuesday evening as they were defeated 2-0 by Vietnam in a friendly at the Shah Alam Stadium.
Nonetheless, Shebby believes Harimau Malaya are still favourites for the Suzuki Cup, largely due the foundations that have been laid at youth level following their gold medal triumphs at the last two Southeast Asian (SEA) games.
"I would say that Malaysia should start the competition as favourites," he told ESPNSTAR.com in an exclusive interview. "And not just because we are the defending champions.
"I think what was important was for us to win the SEA Games gold medal in 2009 and that was the springboard for victory in the 2010 Suzuki Cup. Likewise, we managed to retain the SEA Games gold medal in 2011.
"These are indications that Malaysian football is definitely headed in the right direction. There has been improvement."
The former Kuala Lumpur defender also hailed the depth Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal currently has at his disposal, sometimes he believes has been aided by the heavy focus on youth development.
"For me, what has been very important is that there is now genuine competition for places in the national team," Shebby added. "Back in the day, the core group of players used to be four or five players but not anymore.
"I genuinely believe that now there are 15 or 16 players in Malaysia who could hold their own if they played anywhere in the region.
"There is a very smooth transition from Harimau Muda [the Malaysia U-23 side] to the national team. [Harimau Muda coach] Ong Kim Swee has done a great job to support Rajagobal.
"The boys come from a single background, with the core coming from the Bukit Jalil Sports School. This is what makes Malaysia favourites - the strength in depth and the experience gained will be a very important factor."
Rajagobal's charges continue their build-up to the Suzuki Cup on October 2 when they take on Cambodia.