Friday 25th May, 2018
27 ℃ | 32 ℃Bangkok

Malaysia assistant coach Tan Cheng Hoe believes his team will face a difficult challenge when they finally take on 2010 World Cup qualifiers North Korea in their rearranged 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying fixture in Pyongyang in October.

The game has been postponed twice due to the diplomatic fall out between the nations following the death of Kim Jong Un's half-brother at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February, with Malaysian authorities blocking their team from travelling to the nation.

But with the game now expected to go ahead in early October in the North Korean capital, former Kedah boss Tan took the opportunity to watch Jorn Andersen and his team in action at the King's Cup in Bangkok over the weekend.

"We know that technically and physically they are a good team, maybe a better team than us and they are strong in the way they play football," Tan told ESPN FC.

"The October game will be tough for us but we'll look to do our very best and play at our best level."

North Korea sent a weakened side to the event in Thailand, with Andersen unable to secure the release of his Europe-based players while several others remained in Pyongyang ahead of the upcoming AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.

As a result, North Korea finished last in the four-nation tournament after defeats to Thailand (3-0) and Burkina Faso (4-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw).

"I don't think they fielded their best players because they have four or five players playing in Europe," Tan said. "Of course, that makes a difference but overall they have a good team."

Malaysia made a belated start to their Asian Cup qualifying campaign in June when new Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada oversaw an unfortunate 2-1 loss to Lebanon in Johor.

The Harimau Malaya will renew their attempt to qualify for the continental championship at the start of September when they host Hong Kong.

And Tan is confident that, with more time together to prepare, his team can put on an improved performance against the former British colony when the sides meet in Johor on Sep. 5.

"I think against Lebanon the players did their best," he said. "I think in the next game we'll bounce back with better preparation of the team."

The last time Malaysia played in the Asian Cup was in 2007 when they lost all three group games as co-hosts. But their chances of qualifying for the 2019 edition in United Arab Emirates have improved with the tournament expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch

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