Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe has insisted the fanatical passion towards the AFF Suzuki Cup means the sides go into the tournament with added pressure, after the 2018 draw in Jakarta on Wednesday placed his team in Group A alongside Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

The 2010 winners Malaysia exited at the group stage in 2016 following a last-minute Myanmar goal then disappointed in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 third round of qualifiers when they failed to win a game.

But the country performed superbly well at the AFC U23 Championship in China in January by reaching the quarter-finals and they can now approach the rest of the year with optimism that their fortunes have taken a turn for the better.

“For the coming AFF Suzuki Cup I will probably include many of the U-23 players,” admitted Tan, who took over as head coach towards the end of 2017.

“It was a great experience and great exposure [in China] too, but of course that tournament is a different level to the AFF Suzuki Cup because the expectation of this competition is different as people are fanatical about it so there is more pressure.”

Coincidently, the top four seeds in both groups following the draw remain the same as in 2016, with Laos, who didn’t play two years ago, the only addition in what is now a five-team group.

Malaysia opened their last campaign with a 3-2 win over Cambodia, but then suffered narrow defeats to Vietnam and Myanmar to miss out on a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2008.

“I think people will say that Group A is the easier group but we still think of ourselves as the underdogs because in the past few years we have not done well internationally,” admitted Tan.

“The favourites will be Vietnam, because they have done well in the past few years, and Myanmar. But we cannot underestimate Cambodia and Laos because I think they will prepare well.

“I want the players to be competitive and take one game at a time, but hopefully we can play good football and winning football too.”

Group B, meanwhile, features holders Thailand, who have won the previous two editions, as well as the 2016 runners-up Indonesia.

Four-time champions Singapore, the Philippines – who in March advanced to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time – and the winners of a play-off between Timor-Least and Brunei Darussalam make up the group.

“You cannot say I’m happy [to avoid Thailand] because if you get through the group stage you might meet them in the semi-finals,” added Tan.

“It’s every coach’s dream to qualify for the next stage, so I want the players to have confidence, give their best and sacrifice for their country.”