Roaring start for Harimau Malaya as Coach Pan Gon gets ’em going

by BERNAMA / pic credit: FAM FB

KUALA LUMPUR – The appointment of a new head coach in South Korean Kim Pan Gon has had the desired effect on the national football team as they carved out an impressively dominant 2-0 win over the Philippines in a Tier-1 international friendly.

The match, played at the National Stadium in Singapore, saw Johor Darul Ta’zim winger Muhammad Akhyar Abdul Rasid steal the show by scoring both the goals in an impressive first-half performance that highlighted the positive impact Pan Gon has had on the team’s playing style. 

Muhammad Akhyar, who was named the Most Promising Player at the 2019 National Football Awards, could have notched a hattrick had he not missed the target at the end of the first half.

Coach Pan Gon’s men, playing the first of their two international friendlies in the republic, produced an inspired performance that was full of aggression, quick movement and clean passes, especially in the first 45 minutes of the match against the Philippines, who are ranked 129th in the world.

Unsurprisingly, the Harimau Malaya needed just three minutes to draw first blood. Muhammad Akhyar, upon receiving a pass from La’Vere Lawrence Corbin-Ong on the left, baet a Filipino defender before letting fly a powerful right-footed shot.

Malaysia nearly doubled their lead three minutes later but striker Muhammad Syafiq Ahmad’s pile-driver rocked the post.

The Harimau Malaya, however, did not have to wait long for their second goal as it duly came courtesy of Muhammad Akhyar in a quick counter-attack in the 24th minute.

Safiq Rahim started the move with a quality pass to Muhammad Syafiq, who then fed Muhammad Akhyar on the left and the winger scored with aplomb.

Muhammad Akhyar missed a golden opportunity to make it 3-0 for Malaysia at the end of the first half when he beat the offside trap but missed the target with his attempt.

In the second half, Pan Gon made five substitutions by bringing on two naturalised players – Mohamadou Sumareh and Liridon Krasniqi – as well as Mohamad Aidil Zafuan Abd Radzak, Muhamad Nor Azam Abdul Azih and Muhammad Safawi Rasid in a bid to add more bite to the attack.

However, the move failed to have the desired impact, with the Harimau Malaya’s best chance coming in the 61st minute when Arif Aiman Mohd Hanapi’s goal-bound effort was pushed out by goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

The Philippines, who failed to have a shot on target in the first half, continued to struggle against Pan Gon’s men after the break, resulting in them suffering their first-ever defeat to the Harimau Malaya since 2012.

For the record, Malaysia and the Philippines have drawn all their five previous clashes.

The 154th-ranked Harimau Malaya will now face world number 161 Singapore at the same venue on Saturday (March 26) to complete their fixtures in the FAS Tri-Nations Series 2022.

Pan Gon’s men will round up their series of friendlies in Singapore, which is also part of their preparations for the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers, by taking on local club side Albirex Niigata FC on March 28.