There was a real shock when the team sheet was released ahead of the Malaysia-Laos game on Sunday. Safawi Rasid, Nik Akif Syahiran and Shahrul Nizam were all left on the bench for Malaysia’s second game in Group J, at a time when the perception was that Malaysia needed to chase for goals against V. Sundramoorthy’s side.
The selection as well as the unavailability of the injured Danial Amier meant that the team struggled badly against arguably one of the weaker teams in the group. In fact, the roles were reversed on the pitch where Laos performed like the better team and it was a real shock to the system.
Eventually Safawi was called into action and while his goal probably did not turned out the way he intended judging by his delayed celebrations, the free kick goal still meant that Malaysia have maximum points after two matches. Ong Kim Swee later explained his selection and the risk he took doing so.
“Definitely it wasn’t that good in terms of performance after making a few changes. It’s kind of disappointing because we created a few chances in the first half but we can’t convert. That’s when we start chasing everything, our style of play gone and the level of confidence also dropped. Which made it very difficult for us. The most important thing from this is that we go into the game against China with 6 points.”
“We have to understand logically that we before went into the game against Laos that if we want to overtake China, we have to score 11 goals. So if we go chasing 11 goals but only scored 10 goals, it still means that we remained in second place. So do I need to take that risk and field the players who have played a lot instead of giving them a breather before facing China?” said Kim Swee after the match.
Over the past two years, Kim Swee has done a tremendous job with the Under-23 squad leading them to the 2018 AFC U23 Championship quarterfinal, final of the 2017 SEA Games as well as round of 16 of the 2018 Asian Games. Many a teams have been beaten against the odds not least the results against Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Going into the final clash on Tuesday, with the disparity in goal difference, Kim Swee will be left with no choice but to beat China if he wants to see the team reach the finals in Thailand next year. Malaysia are already guaranteed of at least a second place spot in the group but unless something miraculous happen in the other groups on the final day, Malaysia are unlikely to qualify via the best four runner-up route.
Having seen how weak the midfield was during the Laos match, Kim Swee will have to consider all the possibility to ensure a working engine room against China. Syamer Kutty Abba has been playing in defence but could be push up to shore up the midfield and be one of the options to partner Nik Akif.
“It depends on the situation. Of course we have to come out with a good plan. China are a good team who have scored 13 goals. That shows how good they are. We an average team but sometimes an average team can create upset. I don’t want to look at the format. What we have to do is think how to win. It won’t be easy but it is not impossible. We have to go into the game on Tuesday to look to qualify automatically.”
“If you look at the 13 goals that they scored, there’s a lot of variety not only with headers. How many of their strikers have been scoring? They are a complete team so we cannot concentrate on only one part. We have to be very smart in our approach and be really focus when we play against them,” he added.
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