BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia will face Hong Kong in their second Asian Cup qualification group match tonight, at the Hang Jebat Stadium, Melaka. The home side are currently bottom of Group after losing 2-1 in their first Group B match to Lebanon in June, while the visitors are third with one point after two matches.
Understandably, Tuesday's match is an important encounter for the Malayan Tigers, but there are also a number of things that we want to see in the match.
1) The same level of fan support received by Malaysia U23
Last month saw the Malaysia U23 side reach the SEA Games final. Although they would lose 1-0 to Thailand in the final, the level of support received by the Young Tigers was simply phenomenal, with the 80,000-capacity Shah Alam Stadium half packed during the hosts' group matches, and sold out in the semis and the final. Head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee and his charges credited the vocal support received from the fans as one of the reasons behind their successful run.
It is hoped that the fans can continue the momentum tonight, in order to help improve the lackluster senior side's performance. And according to social media, things are looking optimistic on the support front. A healthy number of fans have been queueing for the tickets since Tuesday morning. Hopefully the support will be as rowdy and vocal tonight, as it had been at Shah Alam throughout August.
Boleh tahan ramai beratur beli tiket di Stad Hang Jebat nk tgk game MAS vs. HK malam ni.. X sabar tgk @ultrasmalaya07 all out malam ni 👏🏻 🐯 pic.twitter.com/7JXPXhYt1X — Taslim Razin (@manarianz5) September 5, 2017
2) Solid defending until the final whistle
Malaysia have lost all of their three past matches, and strangely enough, all the goals they conceded in those matches came in the final 10 minutes.
Against Lebanon, they conceded in the 80th and 90th minute, a brace by Rabih Ataya, after having taken an early lead. In their 2-1 friendly match defeat to Syria on August 22, the defence collapsed to let in two quick goals by Almarmour Mohammad (83') and Rafat Muhtadi (85'), before a Darren Lok penalty deep in injury time pulled one back. In their following friendly match against Myanmar on August 29 in Yangon, they lost 1-0 thanks to Kyaw Ko Ko's 87th goal.
To make matters worse, in Malaysia's last two matches in 2016, both ending in 1-0 defeats to Vietnam and Myanmar, the goals also came in the final 10 minutes.
Obviously, Malaysia's back four has been lacking sustained concentration. Head coach Nelo Vingada needs to focus on this aspect tonight and make sure his defenders stay airtight until the referee blows the final whistle.
3) A win!
After all has been said and and done, what matters the most against Hong Kong is a win.
The Harimau Malaya have been without a win since November 20 last year, a record that spanned six matches, including the three matches under Vingada who was appointed in May.
The 2010 AFF Championship champions need a win in order to keep their 2019 Asian Cup qualification hopes alive, moreso when Group B qualification spots are still pretty much available to all four teams.
However Vingada plans to do it, he must in the end make sure his men come away with the all three points tonight.