Malaysia Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee has finalised his list for the AFC U23 Championship in January by cutting three players as the squad heads to China.
Perak midfielder Khairil Anuar Zamri, Petaling Jaya Rangers defender Raphi Azizan Mariappen and Penang midfielder K. Thivandaran all miss out on the tournament, having failed to prove sufficient form and fitness.
The decision was made following a training camp in South Korea, which included three friendly matches. There were draws with Mokpo City and Jeonju Citizen and a 1-0 victory over Honam University.
Ong insists he had given all players every chance to prove themselves during the training camp. But concerns about the fitness of the three contributed to the decision to leave them out of the final 23.
"Although the three were nursing injuries, they did their best in training," Ong told The New Straits Times.
"I took into consideration all aspects before finalising my squad. However, they are on standby in case any of my 23-member squad sustain serious injuries before our opening AFC match on Jan. 10."
Perak's Khairil claimed that he could not understand why he had failed to earn his place in the squad, having also missed out on the SEA Games in August.
"Of course I feel disappointed because twice I have been dropped from a major tournament," Khairil said.
"I don't really know what is the reason for not getting selected, or is it really I am not good enough."
Ong's squad will be based in Jiangsu in China before facing Syria in a final warm-up friendly on Jan. 5.
The Malaysians then open their campaign in the AFC tournament against Iraq. They take on Jordan three days later before completing their Group C fixtures against Saudi Arabia on Jan. 16.
It is a huge test for the Young Tigers, following a year in which the senior team failed to win a single game and head coach Nelo Vingada was recently replaced by Tan Cheng Hoe.
A positive performance in China would give Malaysian football a huge lift following a disappointing 12 months.
Malaysia U23 squad
Goalkeepers: Haziq Nadzli, Ifwat Akmal Chek Kassim, Ahmad Syihan Hazmi Mohamed
Defenders: Matthew Davies, Dominic Tan, Adam Nor Azlin, A. Shivan Pillay, Adib Zainudin, Irfan Zakaria, Syazwan Zaipol Bahari
Midfielders: Syamer Kutty Abba, Nor Azam Abdul Azih, Syazwan Andik Ishak, Danial Amier Norhisham, Nik Akif Syahiran Nik Mat, Tommy Mawat Bada, Syahmi Safari
Forwards: Safawi Rasid, R. Kogileswaran, Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak, Akhyar Rashid, N. Thanabalan, Jafri Firdaus Chew