A difficult task at the start of the first leg has just become even harder after Vietnam managed to secure two vital away goals in the first leg of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup final. Malaysia roared back into contention to draw the match at 2-2 but the advantage now lies firmly in the palm of The Golden Dragons.
The makeshift Malaysian defence struggled to cope with the tactical nuances of the Vietnamese side and were cut open continuously throughout the first leg, and were lucky not to concede more as Park Hang-seo's side wasted chances after chances.
Mirroring what happened in the group stage, the manner in which Malaysia conceded the opening goal of the night would have been a disappointing watch for Cheng Hoe after Vietnam once again fashioned out an opening through a quick counter attack targeting the right hand side of the home defence.
"We conceded the early goal again because of our lost of focus in the match, like we did in Hanoi. Twice we concede the goal (first goal in Kuala Lumpur and first goal in group stage), it's almost the same. The way we conceded the goal. But it's also good that we came strongly to equalise the game."
"We still have 90 minutes to go. It's not overnight the work to be done. I hope next game we can play better. As a coach, I'm still positive and optimistic about the second leg. I think we still can cause an upset in Hanoi," said Cheng Hoe in the post-match press conference.
Park knew that the pairing of Irfan Zakaria and Amirul Azhan on the right hand side was Malaysia's achilles heel and instructed his players to continually hit the channels to create their openings. It wasn't until Amirul was taken off and replaced by Syafiq Ahmad and Malaysia moved to a 3-4-3 formation that Malaysia looked more secured at the back.
Cheng Hoe went on to admit that his two defenders who started their first game of the tournament were a bundle of nerves and that opened up opportunities for Vietnam. Malaysia struggled to create in the match and both goals came from set piece situations.
His charges looked down on their knees in the final quarter of the match with many leggy players struggling for movement on the pitch. However, the 50-year-old wants his charges to remain positive and is hopeful for a good outcome in the second leg.
"Irfan started well but lost concentration on the goals. Amirul Azhan and Irfan played their level best. We know Vietnam have better players and better level of performance. But I'm happy with the overall performance of my players."
"This is the first time my players play in this high intensity and high tempo kind of match, definitely they will learn from it. Hopeful we can refresh and recharge our batteries to get ready for the second leg. We know that Vietnam have been playing well in the last one year leading up to this tournament," added Cheng Hoe.
The Malaysia head coach now faces a testing couple of days where he will be hopeful of swift recoveries to both Syazwan Andik and Aidil Zafuan, adding to the return of Syahmi Safari to enable him to field a first choice defence in the more testing environment of My Dinh Stadium.
The second leg of the final takes place in Hanoi this Saturday December 15 and Malaysia will be hoping to channel the 'spirit of Bangkok' to ensure that the AFF Suzuki Cup trophy comes back to the country after an 8-year absence.
Follow Goal Malaysia on Instagram