So this is it.
After the multi-million ringgit ploughed into the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) with aim of getting Malaysia to the Under-17 World Cup in 2019, the national team will began their quest at the U16 AFC Championship on Thursday.
On paper, everything is in line for them to succeed.
A state-of-the-art facility at the Mokhtar Dahari Academy in Gambang, over 20,000 football prospects from 123 academies all over the country and a project director who has had success with the Bayern Munich youth team in Lim Teong Kim.
Not mentioning the healthy funding from the Sports Ministry and the frequent attachment stints with some of the top European clubs for exposure.
And home advantage.
“We have had four years to prepare this squad, it’s now game time for us. We are the host, and we’ll do our best,” said Lim ahead of the showdown against Takijistan on Thursday at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
The former Bayern Munich youth coach also dismissed any notion of pressure, with all attention set to be on his team to gauge if the NFDP programme has become a success, or failure.
“This is target, this is our goal, to qualify for the World Cup. In terms of pressure, this is my profession. Pressure comes with the job. I know the weather, I know the people, I know the stadium.”
“I must make use of this opportunity as host. I rather play at home, than play in Japan where it’s cold. Tajikistan knows our strengths and our weaknesses, and for us is the same. There is no secret anymore.”
Of the thousands of players under his purview, Lim has assembled 23 players to try and take Malaysia to the age group World Cup in Peru next year.
After Tajikistan, Malaysia will go on to play Thailand on Sunday, and Japan (September 26) to complete their Group A fixture.
Four years ago, the Malaysia U16 team under S. Balachandran came within a whisker of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup.
But they suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Australia in the quarterfinals, and that dream was gone.
The target is to go one better this year.
The top four teams will make the cut to Peru next year, and Malaysia has to be one of them.
If not, the NFDP programme, birthed to so much pomp, would not have achieved its target.
Photo Credit: FAM