Head coach Tan Cheng Hoe had used skipper Zaquan Adha as the focal point of the attack against argubaly the two weakest teams in Group A of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup competition but decided to opt for Shahrel Fikri in the crunch match against Vietnam and on hindsight, it was not a ploy that worked.
Park Hang-seo cleverly set up his team to play on the counter attack and with three central defenders, were able to gang up easily on Shahrel for majority of the match. Even when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha was pushed further up beside Shahrel as Malaysia dominate the ball possession, Vietnam still had the numerical advantage in those battles.
Shahrel who had been coming off the bench to good effect in recent matches simply found it hard to shake off the shackle put on him by Vietnam's captain on the day, Que Ngoc Hai. Yet, there was an opportunity in the early minutes of the match which Shahrel felt Malaysia should have profited from.
"I was nervous because I was started for the first time in the competition and as the main striker too. I tried and gave my 100%, and of course it disappointing not to be able to help the team to win."
"I felt the pull on my shirt and I thought it should have been a penalty but the referee didn't give it. From the challenge, I also got a knock on my ankle which had an impact on the time I was on the pitch against Vietnam.
"I hope I can still be part of the playing squad against Myanmar and hope that the coach continue to place his trust in me as well all want the country to reach the next phase of the competition," said the PKNP FC player after the match.
Shahrel and the rest of the Malaysian team will be keeping a close eye on Tuesday's clash between Myanmar and Vietnam. A win for Myanmar could complicate matters for Malaysia in the hope of reaching the semi-final, while a Vietnam triumph would make it a straight forward result needed against Myanmar at Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Saturday.
Cheng Hoe will be hoping that after three weeks of training and being together, the 2-day break given to them upon the return to Kuala Lumpur from Hanoi will be give the squad a much needed breather and they will return to training on Monday with recharged batteries.
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