BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia's 2-2 draw against Tajikistan in their Group D AFC U-19 Championship match on Tuesday was not an ideal result for the Young Tigers and head coach Bojan Hodak, but he is still optimistic of his side's quarter-final chances.
The draw has placed them in third place with one point after two rounds, and they now need to win against China while hoping that Tajikistan, in second on four points, lose to group leaders Saudi Arabia, on the final matchday.
Saudi Arabia, who have already secured their quarter-final spot, need at least a draw to finish the group stage in the top spot, while China are already out of contention after two successive defeats.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, the Croatian spoke of the improvements shown by his boys, and his confidence in their ability to reach the next stage.
"I think we played better as compared to our first game (against Saudi Arabia). Tactically the players knew what to do, unfortunately they still made school boy errors when defending, the kinds only made by 13, 14 year old youth players. It's not acceptable if we want to go to the next level.
"(But) the boys reacted well in the second half, and the match could have gone either way. 2-2 was a fair result. If we want to go through, we need to win (against China) and depend on the result of the other group match.
"I don't think that there will be a problem, because Saudi Arabia need at least a draw to finish in top position, while Tajikistan need to win in order to go top and avoid tougher opponents in the knockout stage. The one point today has earned us more confidence," explained the former Kelantan and Johor Darul Ta'zim head coach.
He also took the chance to express his commiseration towards Tajikistan midfielder Ziyovuddin Fuzaylov, who in the 80th minute got on the end of a lunging tackle by Malaysia defender Nabil Hakim Bokhari, suffering a horrible ankle injury as a result, which required him to be raced to the hospital. Nabil meanwhile was shown a red card for his challenge.
"I hope the boy recovers and plays again, what had happened was not nice to see. I had played football for many years, this is one of the worst injuries I have seen.
"It was a 50-50 tackle without any bad intentions, and the incident shocked both sides after that," he remarked.
Malaysia's match against China will be played on October 26, Friday, with kickoff time at 8.00 pm Malaysian time.
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