It was not the result football fans wanted but the performance certainly got everyone excited.
Losing 2-1 to United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup qualification match at Bukit Jalil Stadium last night was heartbreaking as Harimau Malaya deserved more. But there was no shame in the defeat as Malaysia outplayed its higher-ranked opponents – UAE is world No 65 while Malaysia is at No 159 – for long spells.
And it was 90 minutes of sheer entertainment as fans only had praise and salutations for Tan Cheng Hoe’s lads after the final whistle.
“Good fight” and “it’s been a long time since we watched a match this entertaining” were among the many comments made as the players headed to the dressing room.
In fact, the home team could have gone into the break with a comfortable lead but squandered its chances.
Syafiq Ahmad had given Malaysia the perfect start with a header after 45 seconds but Ali Mabkhout equalised two minutes from the break and a defensive mistake saw him grab his 51st international goal after 75 minutes into the match.
There are six more matches for Malaysia in Group G – home and away to Thailand and Vietnam plus the return legs against UAE (away) and Indonesia (home). Continue playing this way and Malaysia’s chances of qualifying directly to the Asian Cup finals for only the fourth time in history are bright.
Malaysia made it to the Asian Cup finals twice via the qualifiers in 1976 and 1980 and again in 2007 by virtue of being the host.
To make the cut for the 2023 Asian Cup in China, Malaysia must either win the group or finish among the top four best runners-up from the eight groups. Doing so will also send the Tigers to the next round of qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
For now, Tan and his boys must take stock and get ready to visit Vietnam on Oct 10.
Let’s remain realistic and grounded in our assessments. Let’s not get carried away with lofty World Cup dreams.
But we cannot deny that these boys played well and should be credited for entertaining our football-crazy nation.
Main image: Syafiq Ahmad scores a goal within the first minute of the match against UAE at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil last night. – Photo by Hazrin Mohd Zaidun/asiana.my