BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Having seen his Malaysia U22 charges defeat Myanmar U22 3-1 to put them in a good position to end Group A of the SEA Games football competition in the top spot, head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee has sounded out a warning to the other contenders.
The hosts needed to defeat the 2015 silver medalists on Monday in order to solidify their chances of qualifying to the semis as group winners, and they did so in emphatic fashion, with a brace by Thanabalan Nadarajah (33', 82') sandwiching Safawi Rasid's 35th minute goal. Myanmar's consolation goal was scored by Than Paing in the 89th minute.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Ong said that the win over Myanmar proved that his charges have the potential to defeat any team they face.
"I've been saying since before the tournament began that we have the potential to beat anyone. We're very disciplined, and with good tactics we can meet whomever we meet.
"When you look at the first two games, we struggled because we did not play the way we wanted to. If we stick to our gameplan, I believe our boys can do it," said Ong.
Central to the Young Tigers' performance was the fact that they did not take the match lightly, although their place in the semis had been all but confirmed before kickoff.
Myanmar head coach Gerd Zeise in his press conference moments earlier had spoken of his men's lackadaisical attitude towards the clash contributing to their defeat, having already secured their semi-final spot.
"So far I haven't seen any problems regarding attitude in my players. They showed good character in the last two games and today they stuck to the gameplan.
"Our boys have the potential and know what to do in crucial games," remarked the trainer.
He is also happy with what has been shown by his midfielders, and the depth he has in that department.
"I have four midfielders; Danial (Amier Norhisham), Syamer Kutty (Abba), Azam (Nor Azam Abdul Azih) and Amirul (Hisyam Awang Kechik).
"The good thing is that each of them compliments each other, whoever plays. That's good for us, where we are not facing problems with two midfielders," he noted.
Ong also praised the massive role played by Thanabalan in the win, his knack for being in the right positions as well as workrate.
"Thanabalan has a finishing instinct and works very hard. Throughout the match he ran non-stop, and that was his advantage.
"If he maintains this performance, he will definitely be a threat to any team we play against," complimented Ong.
Surprisingly, the 46-year old trainer was forgiving towards his captain Adib Zainuddin, whose blunder led to Myanmar's consolation goal.
The defender botched a backpass towards goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli, and the ball was stolen by Aung Thu, who then squared it to Than Paing who did not miss from six yards out.
"Well, everybody makes mistakes. He did not want to do that but it happened.
"He and the teammate who passed the ball to him have to learn that in very crucial moments and situations, we have to be very safe in our own third," said the former Malaysia senior team head coach.
Malaysia will play unfancied Laos in their final Group A match on Wednesday, with a draw sufficient to allow Ong's men to finally pip Myanmar to the top spot.