Only seven minutes separated Malaysia from making it to the biggeset AFC age-group tournament for the second straight time as well as notching up a wonderful win over perennial Asian giants, China. Yet it wasn't to be as Jiang Sheng Long nodded a late header to break plenty of Malaysian hearts in the 2-2 draw.
The result meant that Malaysia finished second behind China in Group J and ultimately only in 7th spot in the among all the second placed teams, missing the boat to Thailand. Either one from Malaysia holding onto the 2-1 lead, or had Philippines emerged victorious over Laos or even more teams winning their final group matches; would have seen Malaysia through.
The technical director of Football Associatin of Malaysia (FAM) has today come out with a statement praising the efforts of Ong Kim Swee's boys and at the same time, stressed that while the outcome wasn't desirable, the performance of team deserved much more than what they got.
"What has been displayed by the young players in the three Group J qualifiers at the Shah Alam Stadium, especially in the 2-2 draw with a China side considered to be among Asia's strongest and led by Guus Hiddink, last Tuesday should be commended," said De Roo in his statement.
"The outcome is not always in our control. In reality, our performances, especially against China was good; we cannot ask for more and should be proud at the way they carried themselves against China.
"It is a shame that it was not rewarded with a spot at next year’s AFC U-23 Championship, because that would be another great opportunity for our boys to get exposed and challenge ourselves with the best. Even Hiddink said to me after the game that we deserved to be there and that it would a shame if we did not qualify. He was impressed by our performances.
"If there are any parties who continue to disparage this team or FAM because of our failure to qualify for the finals, they obviously do not know about football and does not follow the team's progress or performances throughout this qualifying campaign.
"Therefore, we should not continue to lament this failure, but instead need to be positive, look ahead and focus on preparing the youth team for the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, end of November."
The Dutchman also went on to defend that F:30 roadmap set out by FAM which had qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as one of their key targets, which is now dead and buried following the failed qualification. Only the semi-finalists in the tournament next year stand a chance of reaching the Olympics.
De Roo assured fans that FAM will be doing more in the coming years to prepare for the next Olympics in 2024 and no stones will be left unturned in their bid to that stage.
"Although the mission to qualify for the 2020 Olympics is embodied in the FAM Roadmap (F:30), the performance of the national team and clear progress on the field, we cannot continue to assume that the F:30 has failed as it is a long-term map of the for the period from 2019 to 2030.
"The FAM will ensure a more rigorous planning and preparation to ensure that the next young squad will be more competitive in the 2024 AFC U-23 Championship qualifying round for pursue our mission in qualifying for next Olympics in Paris, France in 2024," added De Roo.
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