BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Upon arrival at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) following their expectation-defying 2018 AFC U-23 Championship campaign in China recently, Malaysia U23 head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee was mobbed by members of the media.
Foremost on their minds? What the future holds for him and his charges.
"It has been a very tough campaign for us, but also a very good experience and exposure. Not only we qualified from the group stage, but we also put in an outstanding performance against Korea Republic in the quarter-finals.
"I want us to retain the same level of play, not just the U23 side, but in general as well," said Ong on Monday.
He now will turn his attention to the 2018 Asian Games in August, which will be held in Indonesia.
"According to the calendar, we only have the Asian Games (this year). But I will probably call up a number of players during FIFA international windows.
"At the same time, I need to sit down with the FA and the president to discuss our programmes," he remarked.
But despite his team's success, Ong is not too eager to rush his men into starring roles in the underachieving Malaysia senior team, when questioned by the press.
Just days after the juniors made history in China by becoming the first ever Southeast Asian side to qualify for the AFC U-23 knockout stages, Malaysia's FIFA ranking dropped to its lowest ever position; 175.
"We still have good players over the age of 23 and we cannot simply sideline them," said Ong, "even though the U23 side performed splendidly.
"Furthermore, we have more to fix, we cannot stop here nor be content. Sure, maybe my men will play a more central role in the next four years, in the Asian Cup, but a plan needs to be formulated from now."
When asked by Goal, he also admitted that the campaign is his best achievement as a coach, even when compared to medal-winning campaigns in regional competitions.
"From what I've gone through, since I was the national U15 and U16 head coach, this is a memorable achievement.
"Although I've won the Southeast Asian Games' gold and silver, to have qualified for the continental quarter-finals and almost advancing beyond that is very special," said the former Malaysia senior team coach.