KUALA LUMPUR – The win over Thailand earlier today has boosted the morale of the Harimau Malaya players to perform even better in the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers, which are scheduled to be held next year.
National head coach Tan Cheng Hoe described the win over Thailand as being very meaningful for him and the team after suffering four straight losses – two in Group G second-round 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers and two in the friendlies.
The national team came under heavy fire after losing 4-0 to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 2-1 to Vietnam in Group G in Dubai as well as 4-1 to Kuwait and 2-0 to Bahrain in the friendlies.
“I have to admit that the four straight defeats affected the players’ morale but the win has boosted their confidence,” he said at the virtual media conference today.
However, he admitted that the players would need to work harder to give the other teams, especially those from the Middle East and East Asia, a fight in the next round in a bid to ensure their dream of qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup Finals would come true.
The 53-year-old coach also reminded his players to be more prepared for the third round of the qualifiers, which may be held under the sports bubble concept as was used in Dubai recently.
He also said that he was satisfied with the performance of goalkeeper Khairulazhan Khalid, who replaced first-choice custodian Mohd Farizal Marlias, as well as naturalised player Guilherme de Paula, adding that both performed well throughout the match against Thailand.
“For De Paula, it’s not easy for him to come straight into the team and play in high-level international matches because he has had to adapt to the situation and I can see that he showed a big improvement in terms of confidence, movement and ball challenge. I hope he keeps on improving,” he said.
Muhammad Safawi Rasid, who was brought in as a substitute in the second half, was the hero for the country when he slotted home the 52nd-minute penalty to help Malaysia sink Thailand 1-0 in their final Group G match of the qualifiers earlier today.
The win over Thailand allowed Malaysia to wrest third spot in Group G from the War Elephants and automatically advance to the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers, thus keeping the national team’s hopes of competing in the Finals alive.