Time for Harimau Malaya to earn their stripes

KUALA LUMPUR – Luck may have played a big part in Malaysia’s slim 1-0 win over Myanmar, who were the more dominant side, in their Group B opener in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2022 in Yangon on Wednesday (Dec 21).

But luck is not something a team like Malaysia, who are nicknamed Harimau Malaya, should be counting on.

The Harimau Malaya, under the guidance of coach Kim Pan Gon, will take on Laos in their second Group B match at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil (8.30 pm) tomorrow (Dec 24) before facing two crucial clashes against two-time winners Vietnam in Hanoi on Tuesday (Dec 27) and Singapore in Bukit Jalil on Jan 3.

It’s vital that the Harimau Malaya players cut down on individual mistakes – both when attacking and defending – as seen during the clash against Myanmar.

Otherwise, they risk being punished in these high-intensity matches because one mistake is all that stands between victory and defeat.

This is especially true when facing teams that are lethal and efficient upfront, like Vietnam, who have a proud record of not losing to Malaysia in any tournaments in the past eight years.

As such, Pan Gon’s men cannot take the home clash against Laos tomorrow lightly or they may suffer the same fate as the Philippines, who lost 3-2 to the lower-ranked Cambodia in a Group A match on Tuesday (Dec 20).

Laos, who are also known as the Million Elephants and trained by Michael Weiss, are still reeling from the 6-0 thrashing by favourites Vietnam on Wednesday (Dec 21) and will surely want to bounce back from that disappointment by at least stealing a point from Malaysia tomorrow.

The Harimau Malaya have never lost to Laos in the AFF Cup competition and the last time these two teams met, Malaysia trounced them 4-0 in a group match in the previous edition in Singapore.

However, based on the national team’s match against Myanmar on Wednesday (Dec 21), there are still shortcomings in the Harimau Malaya’s game – with the strikeforce lacking in compatibility and the backline in defensive cohesiveness.

In the opening group match in Yangon, there was a distinct lack of support from players both in attack and defence, thus allowing the opponents ample time to regroup and launch fast breakaways respectively.

The Harimau Malaya attack was almost toothless in the opening stages of that match but, luckily for them, Pan Gon made the right move in introducing naturalised striker Lee Tuck, who made an almost instant impact.

The national team’s defenders also need to cut out silly errors, like how they conceded a penalty to Myanmar when Shahrul Nazeem Zulpakar handled the ball.

The Harimau Malaya, however, were lucky to have been bailed out by goalkeeper Ahmad Syihan Hazmi Mohamed, who dived to his left to deny Myat Kaung Khant and preserve their slim lead until the final whistle.

Unfortunately for Malaysia, they will have to take on Laos tomorrow without the services of defensive stalwart Ahmad Khuzaimi Piee, who looked to have suffered a serious injury in Yangon and whose condition is still uncertain.

Should he be ruled out, Pan Gon is likely to turn to Muhammad Fazly Mazlan.

Overall, though, the world number 145 ranked Malaysia should not have any problems dispatching world number 187 Laos, especially since the Harimau Malaya have yet to concede a goal against the Million Elephants in their last four outings.

The only question, though, is: Will the Harimau Malaya show their true colours? – Bernama / pic credit: FAM FB