Putting aside what could possibly happen in the future, this was undeniably Malaysia's best opportunity to beat a team 94 places above them in the Fifa rankings in United Arab Emirates (UAE). Harimau Malaya started like a train on fire and managed to get into the lead within a minute but should really have stamped their dominance with a few more goals.
Chances continued to flow for Tan Cheng Hoe's team after Syafiq Ahmad had put the home side ahead but in the end, only had one goal to show from a very strong first 25 minutes in the match. Slowly but surely UAE recovered their composure and stalwart Ali Mabkhout grabbed a brace to end Malaysia's unbeaten run in Group G.
It was a feeling of dejection for Cheng Hoe and his team after they put a performance which had UAE shaking in their boots, so much so that UAE's key midfielder Omar Abdulrahman kept shifting about uneasily on the bench before he was brought on in the second half. The failure to retain the intensity that Malaysia showed at the start showed just where Malaysia need to improve.
"Overall the players have shown a great performance in the match. Only that we could not keep the same tempo and intensity. In the first half, especially the first 20 minutes, we should have gotten more goals. UAE had two chances and they converted the goals.
"We should have gotten at least a draw in this match. The players know they have to raise the intensity and tempo in the match because you are playing against a better quality team. Any chance that we create, we have to score. We cannot allow the opponent to score from the two chances they have.
"Overall the players have been progressing very well. They do very well to do the way we want to play, that is not easy. But now they have to go back and work very hard to go to the next level. It's important that the players need to have confidence and commitment. We need to improve our transition and passing, certain aspects especially when it comes to defending.
"They had 3 phases of training that started in July and have been here in Malaysia for one week. We had a tougher away game at Indonesia but I don't want to use that as an excuse. I'm sure the players will learn from their mistakes and take this experience to the games against Vietnam and Thailand," said Cheng Hoe in the post-match press conference.
Malaysia had dominated the early proceedings with the tag team of Mohamadou Sumareh and Matthew Davies, a partnership honed at club level proving to be of particular use to the team. Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Safawi Rasid and Syafiq were culpable of glaring misses that could have put the game to bed before half time.
Concentration remains a big problem for Malaysia with how the goals were conceded. Mabkhout was the only UAE presence inside the penalty box with at least three Malaysian defenders near him but none picked up his movement and challenged him for the first goal. The second was a series of poor judgement on the flight of the ball that led to Mabkhout having a free run towards goal.
Vietnam is the next opponent for Malaysia in Group G with that away match at Hanoi scheduled for October 10. There will be plenty of positives and learnings from this match that Cheng Hoe and his coaching staff will have to work on when the squad regroup towards the end of September.
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