KUALA LUMPUR – Forget the humiliating 10-0 defeat of 2015, believe in yourself and your teammates and don’t pay the United Arab Emirates (UAE) team too much respect.
That’s the advice Harimau Malaya head coach Tan Cheng Hoe (picture) has given his men as they prepare for their Group G second-round 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualifying match in Dubai tomorrow (12.45 am Friday Malaysian time).
Although the match will be the national squad’s first visit to the UAE since that fateful 10-0 drubbing by The Whites on Sept 3, 2015, Cheng Hoe is confident his men will be up for the challenge.
“That (the humbling loss) is in the past. This time, it’s a different situation with a different set of players. I feel we are capable of thwarting their attacks. At the same time, it’s important that we perform with confidence and stay focused at all times.
“In their last two friendly matches, the UAE seemed more prepared, but I think we shouldn’t feel nervous when facing them… not even with their fan support and advantage of playing at home,” he said at an online media conference in Dubai today.
The 10-0 defeat by the UAE at the Mohamed Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi in the 2018 World Cup qualifying second round Asian Zone Group A match was Malaysia’s worst in an international match, eclipsing the previous heaviest defeat of 8-2 to New Zealand in 1967.
Six years on, the Harimau Malaya squad are aiming to redeem themselves against the UAE at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai.
Cheng Hoe, who celebrated his 53rd birthday on Sunday (May 30), is confident they can frustrate the UAE attackers if his defenders can restrict the movements of prolific striker Ali Mabkhout, who netted five goals in their last two friendlies – a 6-0 win over India in March and a 5-1 triumph over Jordan last month.
“Most of Ali’s goals were from his combination with naturalised player Fabio Virginio de Lima and Khalfan Mubarak, who tend to pass to him quite often. So, we hope to stop the ball from reaching Ali,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cheng Hoe was full of praise for 24-year-old Europe-based Dion Cools (of Danish Superliga club Midtjylland), who is of Malaysian-Belgium parentage, after the defender was given the green light to don national colours, saying that the impact made by the newcomer could be seen clearly after just a day of joining the national squad.
He is convinced that Cools would not need a long time to adapt to the players and coaches.
“It’s obvious Cools is happy to be part of the team and is accepted by the players. He has made an instant impact through his personality and character on the field. Although this is his first time training with the team, you can see him mixing with everyone,” Cheng Hoe said.
Meanwhile, naturalised player Mohamadou Sumareh is confident that the Harimau Malaya squad can overcome the UAE, but it would require an almighty effort from every player.
The Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) winger said although the UAE may seem stronger than ever, one should not underestimate the current national squad’s strength, especially with the inclusion of naturalised players as well as those of mixed parentage.
“Yes, it’s not going to be an easy game for sure because we are playing at their home ground. Plus the weather favours them and their fans will be allowed in the stadium. So, it’s not easy but we will do our best… we should come out with a good result,” he said.