Malaysia came within a whisker of upsetting the apple cart and sending out a big warning to the rest of Asia but ultimately came up short in the 1-2 defeat to United Arab Emirates (UAE). Tan Cheng Hoe's boys more than held their own against the 2019 Asian Cup semi-finalist and if they had found more composure in their finishing, would have been celebrating a famous victory.
But such are the fine margins in football that if you don't take your chances, it only put the believe back into the opponent and UAE roared back into contention in the second half. Centre back Adam Nor Azlin was up close with the two goals that Malaysia conceded, in-line with Farizal Marlias when Ali Mabkhout nodded in the equaliser then bumped out of the way by the big striker for the winner.
While feeling rather deflated with the defeat, particularly because he knew three points was there for the taking, Adam is also taking plenty of solace from the fact that Malaysia not only turned up for the match but the performance perhaps indicates a thinning of the gap to the more established sides in Asian football.
"The players have given their all in the game. I cannot deny that this defeat was painful. I was there at the last ball when the they scored and I couldn't stop him (Mabkhout) from scoring. But this is only our second game, we still have a lot of games to come. So we have to be more focus and take every game as valuable points that we can take.
"Whichever big team. UAE or Japan, if we play like we did and we manage to maintain our momentum, do our high press, I'm sure that no matter how good a team is, they will make mistakes. We saw that our gap to UAE is not much. Only that we lost our concentration slightly and that we have to work on in future games," Adam told Goal after the match.
The Johor Darul Ta'zim player watched from the sidelines as Aidil Zafuan was the preferred choice to partner Shahrul Saad in the 2018 AFF Championship but this year with Cheng Hoe's preference to give more opportunities to younger place, has reaped the rewards of more game time with his club side.
Starting the with international friendly against Jordan, Adam has been selected in the starting line-up in the two Group G matches against Indonesia and UAE. There were plenty of good moment for him in the back line but as can be seen, his partnership with Shahrul isn't quite the finished article just yet.
The Malaysia squad has disbanded since the completion of the first two matches of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualification and will turn their attention back to club matters. But the next round of international break is just around the corner and Adam will be looking to build on the trust that Cheng Hoe seemingly has in him.
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