- Malaysia face Timor-Leste in Asia’s first round of qualifying for Qatar 2022
- Captain Zaquan Adha Radzak aims to lead his side through
- Keen to play in World Cup qualifiers alongside twin brother Aidil
Asia's FIFA World Cup™ qualifying has invariably provided a stage for dark horses to impress. Riding high after a strong run all the way to the AFF Championship final five months ago, Malaysia are determined to not be victim of an upset when they take on minnows Timor-Leste next month in the first round of qualifying for Qatar 2022.
The continent’s 12 bottom-ranked sides will feature in the opening stage battling over two legs for a place in the next round. Malaysia, 168th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and the highest-placed nation among the line-up, face Timor-Leste who sit 27 places below them.
"We have a good squad which consists of good players and we can't let this opportunity slip away," Malaysia captain Zaquan Adha Radzak told FIFA.com. "At least on paper, our team are better in terms of facilities and quality of players.”
Malaysia will host the first leg on 6 June before travelling five days later for the return. For Radzak, home advantage and the strong local support they receive is a major part of the team’s strengths. Three 80,000-plus crowds were in attendance at their cavernous Bukit Jalil National Stadium during the AFF Championship.
"It is important for us to wisely use the advantage of playing at our home ground," the 31-year-old Kedah striker said. "But we can't underestimate our rivals. I have played [many matches] against Timor-Leste throughout my career. We can't take things for granted because in football anything can happen."
Malaysia’s runners-up finish in last December's Southeast Asian Championship saw Radzak score three times. Notably, they swept past Thailand in the semi-finals to reach the final, only to be edged 3-2 by Vietnam on aggregate. For the skipper, their impressive performances on the regional stage are cause for optimism in World Cup qualifying.
"The AFF Championship was a memorable campaign for us. For me, the most important factor was that our players had such a harmonious relationship. That was why we could defy the odds to progress to the final. Although we did not end up as champions, every one of us gave our highest commitment."
Notable among Malaysia's starting line-up during the AFF Championship was twin brother Aidil Zafuan Radzak. While Zaquan spearheaded the attacking-line, Aidil was a cornerstone of the defence.
"Of course, I hope we will join each other in the World Cup qualifier campaign again,” said the skipper. “I have been playing with him since we were little kids and we are familiar with each other's playing style. To play in the same team, as brothers, we click in a way like no others can do. So, I hope, with our undying spirit, that we will be able to play and help the team as much as we can."
The Timor-Leste test marks the first World Cup qualifying appearance for Radzak. Aidil, meanwhile, figured prominently for Malaysia on the road to Brazil 2014, scoring twice against Chinese Taipei. It is a fact which provides Radzak with added motivation.
"It was indeed an inspiration for me to watch my brother score twice in World Cup qualifying. And he did that as a defender. For me, it is an honour to appear in a World Cup qualifier. I will try to create some fond memories which I can cherish for the rest of my footballing career."
With the Asian campaign doubling as the qualification for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, Malaysia harbor ambitions of securing a place at the continental finals. "We must try to secure a place in the next Asian Cup. Realistic or not, our hopes of qualifying for Qatar 2022 are still far-fetched. Of course, in football nothing is impossible. We should work hard to achieve the goals we have set.”