Malaysia Under-22 forward N. Thanabalan hopes to inspire Malaysia to Southeast Asian (SEA) Games glory this year while providing for his stricken family.
Thanabalan, 20, was one of the standout players from Malaysia’s recent China tour, alongside Daniel Amier of Felda and Penang duo Syamer Kutty Baba and Jafri Firdaus Chew. The squad returned to Kuala Lumpur on Friday evening.
Since the age of 18, Thanabalan has been his family’s sole breadwinner after his father S. Nadarajah was paralysed following a road accident four years ago. He hopes to do well at next month’s AFC U23 qualifiers in Thailand to earn a place in the SEA Games squad on home soil.
“I believe a good performance will improve my profile and put me on track to ease my family’s financial situation,” Thanabalan told The Star.
The Negri Sembilan loanee is one of two players picked by Datuk Ong Kim Swee from Malaysia’s third-tier Felcra FC for the China tour.
Thanabalan did not disappoint when given his chance, playing a part in all three games against China U22 (1-0 loss) and the reserve sides of Guangzhou R&F (2-2 draw) and Guangzhou Evergrande (3-0 win).
He scored against Evergrande, and believes he is now in contention to make the squad for the AFC U23 qualifiers in July.
“I think I did quite well on the tour. I really hope to make the final squad for the AFC qualifiers and then the SEA Games,” he said.
In the July qualifiers, Malaysia are grouped together with hosts Thailand, Indonesia and Mongolia.
Ong’s men open their account against Indonesia (July 19) before playing Thailand (July 21) and Mongolia (July 23).
Thanabalan caught the eye of coach Ong in China, along with Daniel Amier of Felda United and Penang duo Syamer Kutty Baba and Jafri Firdaus Chew.
Thanabalan is likely to features in Ong’s final friendly against Melaka United on June 22, with the squad departing for Bangkok in mid-July.
The SEA Games opening ceremony will take place on Aug. 19 in Kuala Lumpur, with the football tournament expected to begin a few days earlier.
Malaysia last clinched SEA Games football gold medal in 2011 before Ong’s stint as senior national team boss.
In the 2011 final, Malaysia held their nerve in Jakarta to defeat Indonesia on penalties. Current national stars Baddrol Bakhtiar, Fadhli Shas, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat and Mahali Jasuli were in that successful Harimau Muda team.
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