Safee Sali could start for Malaysia in Johor return, praises coach Vingada

Striker Safee Sali believes Nelo Vingada's warm introduction to the Malaysia squad will boost team spirit as they prepare for their opening AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Lebanon on June 13 in Johor Bahru.

Vingada arrived on May 23 to begin a challenging assignment with the Malaysians, who were knocked out of last November's AFF Suzuki Cup in the group stages, and had a miserable 2018 AFC World Cup qualifying campaign.

But veteran Safee, who could be entrusted to start against the Lebanese, believes the new Portuguese head coach has got his tenure off on the right note.

"As an experienced coach, he seems to have a player-friendly approach," Vingada told the New Straits Times.

"He has coached a number of big teams and his good record should help to improve Malaysian football. We all know that he is eager to lead."

Safee, and his teammates, are gearing up for only their second international match of the year after a goalless draw in a friendly in the Philippines on March 22.

Vingada, who had success with Saudi Arabia two decades ago on the Asian stage, has had to alter his approach with the Malaysians, who are observing the fasting month of Ramadan.

The 74-time capped Safee could link-up with his former Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) teammate Amri Yahyah against Lebanon, who are Group B leaders after their 2-0 victory over Hong Kong on March 28.

The other striker in the team is JDT's Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, who will inject pace and provide a different threat with his direct approach.

Safee has found a new lease of life with PKNS FC this season, with three goals to his name in the Malaysia Super League for a struggling team.

And he former Cardiff City triallist has plenty of big-game experience on the AFF Suzuki Cup stage, and could be an asset in front of his old fans on June 13.

Vingada will have a lot going in his favour if can deliver three points in front of a capacity home crowd at Larkin Stadium.

The former Portugal U20 boss has the local expertise of former Kedah coach Tan Cheng Hoe in a quest to achieve qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, which was the target set by the Football Association of Malaysia in 2015.