Hodak's charges need more competitive match experience

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Malaysia U18, 18092017
Zulhilmi Zainal
Malaysia U18 head coach Bojan Hodak admitted that he was surprised at how well his charges played in the recent AFF U18 Championship.

BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter

After guiding his Malaysia U18 charges to the recent AFF U18 Championship final on Sunday, Bojan Hodak has remarked that what set his boys apart from eventual champions Thailand was experience in competitive matches.

Speaking to the press upon the team's arrival from Yangon, Myanmar at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday, the Croatian trainer said that he was surprised that the team got as far as they did, following his own less-than-optimistic observation of the team before the tournament began.

He did not have a long preparation time with the team, and did not set a specific target for the tournament. But in Yangon, his boys won four matches and drew one match in the group stage, en route to defeating hosts Myanmar on penalties in the semi-finals, before falling to a 2-0 defeat to Thailand in the final match.

"I'm surprised with the result but I I've said before it's good because there was no pressure. For them it's their first experience playing at the international level as they've never played in any AFF (Asean Football Federation) tournaments before, unlike the U16 boys. They did not have this experience before and you could see in the semi-final match, their performance was affected by the big crowd.

"They surprised everybody but they showed character and quality. I've mentioned before that their tactical knowledge is quite low, but the good thing is they are young boys and they really listened. They followed everything especially after we won the first few matches. We've developed this bond between the coaching staff and players, and now they trust each other much more.

"The outcome in the final may not be the best but we matched Thailand and even had better chances than they did. What's important for me is that the boys have performed well and there is hope for the future," explained Hodak on Monday.

When asked what set his boys apart from the eventual champions Thailand, Hodak responded that the Thailand players have constant competitive experience, something that his charges lack.

"They (Thailand) play competitive football regularly so they know how to win games that could go either way.

"They have experience in competitive matches, and this is what our boys and team lack," he pointed out.

Now the former Kelantan and JDT head coach turns his attention towards preparations for the 2018 AFC U19 Championship qualification, which will take place in South Korea from October 31 to November 8.

"The boys will now return to their clubs because they will be playing in the kockout stages of the President's Cup and the Youth Cup, but in early October I will call up the players whose team have been knocked out to start preparations for Korea.

"It will be very tough because we have been drawn against South Korea, one of the top Asian teams and Indonesia who have been playing very good football in the tournament and have been preparing for six months and playing in Europe.

"Then we have Timor-Leste who have four overseas-based players and will have one-month's preparation in Korea, this will definitely be a tough group," he noted.