After the sparkling attacking vibrancy shown in the previous four matches against Jordan, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Sri Lanka; Malaysia were brought down to Earth by a resolute Vietnam side in the 1-0 defeat on Thursday.
The result at My Dinh Stadium was not the result Malaysia wanted for the joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualification match and it puts a real dent into the hopes of progression to the next stage. Being at home Vietnam adapted easily to what was a difficult pitch and with their disciplined defence, managed to stifle a Malaysian team that has plundered in 10 goals in the last four matches.
Even the man who scored half of those goals for Malaysia in Syafiq Ahmad was reduced to nothing more than a mere passenger in the match and the Johor Darul Ta'zim player was honest about how the match went.
"We tried our best but it wasn't our day. We have to keep improving and double our effort if we want to be back to winning ways. Vietnam played well and were compact in their defending so we had trouble to penetrate. They played with a back five and their defenders are good, so it was hard for us to even reach the box.
"I also struggled to find space to play. After this to play against a team like a Vietnam, we have to improve more," said Syafiq in the mixed zone.
Once again Syafiq was deployed as the attacking midfielder and continued there even when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha was pulled off in the second half as Tan Cheng Hoe opted for Mohamadou Sumareh to slot in the vacated striking position.
With Nguyen Tuan Anh, Do Hung Dung and subsequently Pham Duc Huy in the second half all patrolling the midfield well, space to operate was at a premium for Syafiq. Vietnam certainly have done their homework on Malaysia and vice versa.
Neither keepers had much to do and it was fine margins that separated the two teams which sets up an interesting reverse fixture when they play each other again in Kuala Lumpur next year.
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