It was an early birthday gift for September babies Zhafri and Declan when national team head coach Kim Pang Gon included them in his list of 25  players called up for the Harimau Malaya’s centralised training camp that begins on September 16-19 , 2022, in preparation for the 48th King’s Cup organised by the Football Association of Thailand from September 22-25, 2022 in Chiang Mai, Thailand, while Declan’s twin brother, fellow birthday boy Ryan and national under-23 goalkeeper Azri G. were included in the standby list.   


Previously appearing twice as back-up to the main list of players; firstly in March when he was eventually drafted to  into the training camp for Tri-Nations Series in Singapore, replacing Darren Lok, who came down with the Covid-19 virus on the first day of the camp, and then in May for the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, Zhafri, was an outright choice for the South Korean this time around with attacking midfielder’s impressive performances in 2022 to boast.      


Declan meanwhile answers his first call-up.  After enduring a tough start to his football time with the City Boys earlier in the season, having big shoes to fill following Daniel Ting’s exit at the close of 2021, he has firmly established himself as a dependable member of head coach Bojan’s line-up, adept to function across the defence, whether at left, centre or his preferred right position.  His selection is a reflection of the hard work he has put in this season, and Bojan’s faith in persevering with the No. 12. 


Azri G who has been tremendous for the Red And White in goal during the AFC Cup matches and while featuring for the Young Tigers, and Ryan who has consistently produced flashes of brilliance since returning to the city slickers squad following a lengthy spell out injured, are in a list that serves as a support to the main cast of players called-up, for Kim’s third major assignment since joining the national set-up in February.


Once again, Johor DT players dominated the roll, with 9 players coming from the southerners. Terengganu, Selangor and Petaling Jaya City contribute with three players each, while Negeri Sembilan and Kuala Lumpur City contribute with a pair each.  Sabah and Sri Pahang have single representations. One overseas player will also link up for the camp.


The Yellow And Black, open the tournament on Thursday, September 22, 2022, at the 700th Anniversary of Chiangmai Stadium against hosts Thailand in a guaranteed sell-out. Earlier at the same venue, Trinidad & Tobago will play Tajikistan.  Three days later, teams that were defeated in their first match will compete for 3rd/4th placing, while the winning teams will feature in the final.


Malaysia who are 4-time King’s Cup champions in 1972, 1976 (jointly with Thailand), 1977 (jointly with South Korea B) & 1978, will be making a return to this tournament for the first time since 1995,  Curacao are the defending champions, winning the 2019 edition, when it was last played, edging Vietnam in the penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw after extra-time.  Thailand are the most successful team with 14 championships. 


The King’s Cup marks Kim’s final preparations for the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship from December 20, 2022 to January 16, 2023 and later next year, the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Asian Cup to be held in either South Korea or Qatar.