KUALA LUMPUR: Training is in full swing for the Malaysian women’s national football team ahead of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s tournament in Taif, players told Arab News, as they saw the competition as a major chance for international exposure.
The Women’s International Friendly Tournament is part of Saudi Arabia’s plans to develop a quality national side and promote the game in the Kingdom.
The competition’s first edition took place in Alkhobar in January. The second edition will take place in Taif on Sept. 18-30, featuring also Pakistan, Laos, Lebanon, and Bhutan.
The Malaysian team, Malayan Tigress, are being prepared by Jordanian football professional Soleen Al-Zoubi, who became their head coach in December last year.
“I want the players to play beautiful football, play our style, and dominate the field. This is what I am looking for, to be honest, (for them) to perform well and to gain more experience, and to see the true level of our team against almost same-level teams,” Al-Zoubi told Arab News after the team started their official training sessions earlier this week.
The SAFF tournament was for her an important opportunity for the team.
The Malaysian women’s football team played their first international game at the Asian Women’s Football Championship in 1975, and their performance would fluctuate over the decades. Currently, they stand 89th in the FIFA Women’s World Ranking.
“These kinds of matches and tournaments not only prepare the players for the game, but also on a professional level — how to deal with the press, how to deal with the opponents and the fans under pressure, how to play in a big stadium, and how (to) play in a high-performance environment,” the coach said.
“(There are) lots of benefits we can gain from the tournament.”
While women’s football is relatively new in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is taking giant strides in promoting the game.
The Saudi women’s team, the Green Falcons, played their first international against Seychelles in 2022, winning 2-0. In August 2021, former Germany international Monika Staab was appointed as their coach and the first women’s league was introduced in early 2020.
For Al-Zoubi, Saudi efforts for women’s football are important not only for the region but also beyond.
“I think they (Saudi Arabia) are doing well in women’s football. They are growing rapidly. I’m happy for them … I think they will be an inspiration for women’s football in the region, which would affect positively women’s football in general,” she said.
“I am happy that they also invited the Malaysian team to take part in this special tournament.”
Malaysian players, too, were enthusiastic.
One of them, Jaciah Jumilis, told Arab News that participating in the upcoming tournament in Taif would help the team gain more confidence.
“The tournament is important for us since this team consists of quite young players. There are players aged 18, 17 and 16, and this is a very good opportunity for them to ensure that the team will be more confident to play in more matches in the future,” she said.
“I really hope we can do our best in Saudi Arabia.”
Another player, Azzlyeanieh Kinuli, was already looking forward to the competition.
“I will do my best to ensure that I go all out with the team and come back with glory this time,” she said.