Safawi the bright spot as Malaysia stumble in opening AFC U23 hurdle

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Find out which five Malaysian players received above average marks after Iraq put Malaysia to the sword in their opening Group C encounter.

It was a reality check for Malaysia in the opening match of the AFC U23 Championship as they were trounced 4-1 by tournament favourites Iraq. The difference in quality between the two teams was substantial and it was reflected in the scoreline.

Malaysia to their credit did put up a creditable fight sandwiched between haphazard defending. Read on to find out who  Goal  think performed admirably, mediocre and downright poor.

Ifwat Akmal 5

The Kedah keeper was undeniably at fault for the second goal which Amjad Attwan scored, having failed to deal with a direct ball that came straight at him. That it came at a crucial phase of the game when Malaysia were coming into their own meant that it was a much bigger mistake than initially viewed. Was in great form coming into the tournament, Ifwat was caught out cold in the first match.

Dominic Tan, Malaysia U23

Dominic Tan 5

Earned a surprise start for the match and was given a rude awakening early on. He dived in and missed out completely on Bashar Resan that eventually led to the creation of the opening goal for Iraq. Did steady himself for the rest of the match but will need to work on understanding with Irfan Zakaria.

Irfan Zakaria 5

One of the poorest games in recent memory for the normally calm and collective Irfan. His lack of pace was laid to bare by Iraq's Resan for the first goal. The nerves did ebb away the longer the match went on as he started to be more assertive in his passing out from the back, which remains the most point why this midfielder plays in the defence under Ong Kim Swee.

Adam Nor Azlin 5

Defending wise, he wasn't as strong as he could be early on but like his fellow centre backs, improved over the course of the match. However, his distribution was extremely poor on the day. Assumed the captain's armband, perhaps heaping slightly more responsibility and pressure that he's normally accustomed to.

Matthew Davies 6

Provided good energy down the right hand side but was forced to be more on the defensive side than providing support up front. When the chance did come for him to push forward, his delivery wasn't great, though it didn't help that there were a lack of movement from his team mates.

Syazwan Andik, Malaysia U23

Syazwan Andik 5

It was his poor clearance which allowed Attwan to latch onto the ball inside Malaysia's penalty box for the second goal in an otherwise poor outing from Syazwan. The left wing back was also a let down in the attacking position, often times choosing to make a pass instead of taking on his opponent.

Daniel Amier 6

Used instead of Syamer Kutty Abba, Daniel had a decent performance in central midfield. While he did not produce anything spectacular, he had a tidy game where he recycled the ball very well by simply not dwelling when in possession. 

Nor Azam Azih, Malaysia U23

Nor Azam Azih 6

Will not be forgetting his poor back pass that allowed Hussein Ali to grab Iraq's fourth, but Azam didn't have his worst game. Malaysia looked to him to create and Iraq knew that, continually having one or more players closing him down quickly at every opportunity. Kept the attacks going but needed better movement around him.

N. Thanabalan 4

One to forget for the SEA Games hero. With Malaysia in defensive mode for large chunks of the match, Thanabalan did not get to showcase his eye for goal. A couple of awry passes in the first half gave the Iraqis a chance to counter and it wasn't long before Ong hooked him off.

Jafri Chew, Malaysia U23

Jafri Firdaus Chew 4

Just wasn't in the game at all, not exactly anonymous but close to it. His physical presence that looked a real difference at Southeast Asian level, was not the same case at Asian level. Could not imposed himself and was bullied off the ball constantly by the Iraqi defenders.

Safawi Rasid 7

Took his goal brilliantly but it was his all-round game that deserved the praise. Safawi was Malaysia's biggest threat throughout the match as he showed that he was capable of matching up to the Iraqis. There was one brilliant solo run in the second half but otherwise Safawi looked more a team player as he played his first 90 minutes under Ong.

Akhyar Rashid 6

Came off the bench with half an hour to spare and was lively throughout. His cameo showed his diligence and how his direct running style can have an impact against tiring opponents. It was his run from the left that created Malaysia's solitary goal, showing the awareness to look up and picking up Safawi's movement.

R. Kogileswaran, Akif Syahiran N/A

Not enough playing time to be evaluated.

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