Big pressure on Malaysia in must-win friendly against Mongolia

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All eyes on Tan Cheng Hoe and his boys as Malaysia goes into the international friendly match against Mongolia as heavy favourites to win.

Ten matches have gone by without Malaysia fans being able to celebrate a win for the senior national team. A streak that started since the tail-end of 2016 when Malaysia then under the guidance of Ong Kim Swee, defeated Cambodia 3-2 in the opening match of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Two draws and eight defeats to the likes of Syria, Myanmar, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Lebanon since then have made Malaysia's FIFA rankings plummeting to their current low of 178. Yet, Thursday's match represents a new start for Malaysia in every sense of the word, particularly under the new leadership of Tan Cheng Hoe.

The 50-year-old former Kedah head coach and former national team assistant coach, knows that the pressure is on especially when Malaysia is taking on Mongolia, a team that's 11 rungs below in the FIFA rankings.

"This is the first time the national team will play this year. The players are in a good condition despite the weather wrecking havoc. This is a good chance for team but I don't want to heap too much pressure on the players. I just want to see 100% from them, to play good football and we'll get good result."

"I want the players to go into the match with a postive mindset and take it as a challenge. The most important thing is to play as a team and then I'm sure the result will come," said Tan in the pre-match press conference.

The Mongolia side is a very young team under the tutelage of German, Michael Weiss. The fact that none of the players in the team that was brought to Kuala Lumpur are professional players, is the very reason why Malaysia should start as massive favourites to win the match.

Weiss also did not have the best of preparations considering that fact that it's still the winter season in Mongolia and with the temperature there below 5oC, it makes outdoor training difficult for the players, forcing them to only train indoors on futsal pitches.

Despite the apparent gulf in players and preparations, national team captain Safiq Rahim is preaching caution and do not want to see any of his team mates taking the match lightly or think that the match is won before stepping onto the pitch on Thursday.

"For us players, we have to be positive and whoever is selected, must be responsible and give our best. We need to try to give a breath of fresh air to the team after so long without a win. We cannot take them too lightly, whoever the opponent." 

"What is important is for the team to be ready as best we can. We need to execute what we plan, play as a team and hopefully we can get a result," said Safiq.

For the first time since June 16 2015, the national team will be returning to the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, where the last time they played there, it was a 0-6 hammering handed by Palestine. The stadium was subsequently closed for improvements works and matches were moved to Shah Alam, Johor Bahru and Melaka.

Given the team and the location, there's no denying that a home win for Malaysia is expected. Add to the fact that Mongolia themselves are also without a win since November 2016, and the pressure is right on Tan and his boys to make it count on Thursday night.

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