BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Despite their valiant effort, Malaysia's 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualification hopes were dashed.
They weren't able to hold on to hang on to their 2-1 lead against favourites China in their last Group J match on Tuesday, conceding a late equaliser in the match that was held at the Shah Alam Stadium.
Malaysia vs China match highlights
The failure to upset Gus Hiddink's charges meant they only finished the group in second place, and as the seventh best second-placed team, nowhere near the top-four second-placed teams, who will follow the 11 qualification stage group winners to the finals in Bangkok next year.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Malaysia boss Datuk Ong Kim Swee remarked that his team gave their best against a better-prepared, superior side.
"China are a very strong team that has depth as well, line-up changes make little difference to them. And they have prepared [for the qualifiers] for three months while we only had around 20 days.
"When I did not field several players against Laos (on Sunday) we struggled; [because] we lack depth. That was why I rested Nik Akif, Hadi [Fayyadh] and Safawi [Rasid] so that they'd be fresh for the China game. There's always a reason for my decisions. Today we almost did it.
"For our boys to show character is a good result for us, but still it wasn't enough for us to qualify. They prepared in UAE, Bangkok and then Kuala Lumpur. Tell me, do you think we can qualify if we had three months? I'm not complaining, I know my boys can play well in big games, but the most important thing is for them to be consistent," explained the former Malaysia head coach.
When questioned by Goal about his decision to protect the 2-1 lead instead of going for the killing blow, Kim Swee responded that sitting back was the safer route.
"You have to consider that China knew that they could fail to qualify had they lost and finished second in the group, so they were pressing very, very hard [for the equaliser]. The boys defended very well except during the cross [which led to China's second equaliser].
"We'd stopped them from sending in crosses in the first half. Look at the statistics from China's matches against Laos and Philippines; they attempted a lot of crosses which they put away. And today they could only attempt a few crosses, and still they managed to score from them; that's the difference between a good team and an average one.
"Their depth allowed them to rotate players, whereas I had to play Syahmi [Safari] and Dominic [Tan] every minute of our three matches; and that's three matches in five days. What else were you expecting? This is the result and I'm very proud of them," he remarked.
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