BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After guiding his Malaysia U23 side to the quarter-finals of the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship by stunning favourites Saudi Arabia U23 with a gritty 1-0 win, head coach Dato' Ong Kim Swee expounded on the meaning of the achievement.
In the match that was held at the Kunshan Stadium on Tuesday, Daniel Amier Norhisham's 28th minute strike gave the Young Tigers a slender lead, and they defended it tooth and nail against the onslaught of the Saudis throughout the remainder of the match. The win booked them a fairy-tale second place finish in Group C of the competition with four points, behind Iraq on six points.
Saudi Arabia vs Malaysia match highlights
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Ong told the media the significance of the win.
“It is definitely a great result. We have created history. Overall, my boys showed courage and determination. We showed today that we can compete against superior teams like Saudi Arabia,” said Kim Swee yesterday.
“I believe we have never beaten the Saudis for a long time. After what has happened to our football, I think this is a massive achievement for Malaysia. We have proven to everyone that we have a good future ahead and that we can play good football to match the best teams in Asia," explained Ong.
When asked about his boys' performance in the match, the former Malaysia senior coach dismissed the question, remarking that in the end it was the result that mattered the most.
“It does not matter how we played as to me result is more important. We were very disciplined defensively in the second half, as we knew the Saudis would come to us aggressively for a goal. The players were ready as we had prepared in training in terms of defending and attacking.
“When you defend, you need to be disciplined. Our players showed great courage and character to stop the Saudis from scoring,” he noted.
The Young Tigers' success of reaching the quarter-finals means that Malaysia are the first ever Southeast Asian side to reach that stage, an amazing feat considering it is also their first ever appearance in the biennial junior continental competition.
Malaysia's quarter-final match will take place on Saturday, against Group D winners. Coincidentally, Group D includes Vietnam, who could become the second Southeast Asian side to reach the quarter-finals in the competition's history, if they defeat Syria in their final group match on Wednesday. Vietnam also have a chance to finish top of the group, and set up a quarter-final tie against Malaysia. In their second group match, they produced a victory that is almost similar to Malaysia's win over the Saudis, beating group favourites Australia 1-0.
Surprisingly, Thailand, long considered the most formidable Southeast Asian nation, have been knocked out of the competition. The War Elephants were defeated in all three of their group matches, to finish bottom of Group B.
Apart from Iraq and Malaysia; four other teams have booked their places in the quarter-finals; Japan, Uzbekistan, Qatar and the other tournament debutantes Palestine.