Head coach Nelo Vingada believes that Southeast Asian (SEA) Games hero N. Thanabalan is not the right man to lead the line for Malaysia against Hong Kong in their AFC Asian Cup qualifier on Oct. 10.
Vingada is under pressure to deliver his first win for Malaysia, who are bottom of Group B with only a point from their opening two home matches.
After grabbing a fortuitous 1-1 draw against Hong Kong on Sept. 5, they will now travel to the former British colony.
It came as a surprise when Vingada excluded Thanabalan from his 24-man squad for centralised training on Oct. 4.
The striker scored four goals to inspire the Malaysia under-22 team to the men's football silver medal at August's SEA Games.
"Thana is a good player, but maybe not for this game. He has great qualities, but I think it is still early to call him to the senior team," Vingada told Berita Harian
"At the moment I have Shahrel Fikri, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Darren Lok to lead the frontline against Hong Kong. But who knows, I could call upon Thana in the remaining group games against North Korea and Lebanon."
Thanabalan has become a national celebrity after his SEA Games exploits, and was seen this week mingling with Formula One drivers' championship leader Lewis Hamilton ahead of the Malaysia Grand Prix.
The ex-Portugal coach, however, chose half a dozen of Thanabalan's teammates from the SEA Games for the match against Hong Kong.
Matthew Davies (Pahang), Adam Nor Azlin (Selangor), Nor Azam Abdul Azih (Pahang), Syamer Kutty Abba (Penang), Ifwat Akmal (Kedah) and Safawi Rasid (JDT) are the six entrusted by Vingada to beef up the national squad for a must-win assignment.
"We have a strong core of development players, and I believe this six can compete at the highest level. I feel the combination of the young and senior players will add variation to our play," Vingada said.
Anything but three points at Hong Kong Stadium would leave the Malaysians in a perilous position to quality for the regional tournament.
Malaysia last competed at the 2007 Asian Cup as co-hosts, but suffered an embarrassing tournament by losing all three games while conceding 12 goals in the group stage to finish bottom.
For Vingada, the third postponement of the clash against North Korea on Oct. 5 is a blessing in disguise.
His squad was supposed to travel to Pyongyang via Singapore and Beijing on Oct. 3, but the game was called off by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) after the Malaysian government issued a travel ban.
The AFC are due to make a decision on the game soon, and could move the qualifier to a neutral venue.