It was the outcome which ticked a lot of boxes for the Tan Cheng Hoe and the Malaysia national team. A win and a clean sheet achieved against a Tajikistan side that sits much higher than Malaysia in the FIFA rankings puts Harimau Malaya in good stead heading into the home double header in the next 10 days.
Six changes were made to the starting eleven compared to the one that took to the field in at My Dinh Stadium last month with Khairulazhan Khalid, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Nor Azam Azih, Syamer Kutty Abba, Syahmi Safari and Akhyar Rashid all given a chance to prove themselves worthy of a place in the squad.
Safawi Rasid came off the bench in the second half to score a wonderful winner but the majority of the 'new' players did well and Cheng Hoe freely admits that the decision to reduce the squad as well as the final decision on the XI against Thailand will not be an easy one.
"It was a motivational win for the team because Tajikistan are not a small team that is easy for us to beat. Overall, the players did well even though we made some changes as some were feeling tired. I'm confident that the players are giving their best because the intensity was good through compared to previous matches.
"In the first half, we nearly conceded a couple of occasions. So we still have a lot of homework to do and to improve our defence. The coaching staff are still in discussion on the squad as well as the line-up for the Thailand match. We had a good week of training thus far with the healthy competition among the players to get into the team and the win puts us in a positive mood ahead of the two crucial matches," said Cheng Hoe.
The midfield was the one given most makeover as a completely different set of players were used compared to the one that lost to Vietnam. Syafiq Ahmad was pushed to a striker's position which cleared up three available slots filled by Baddrol, Azam and Syamer.
In the first half, it would be hard to say that the midfield functioned like a well-oiled engine as often times Baddrol and Azam seemed intent to play the same role, which also meant Syamer looking rather lost amongst that trio. But the introduction of Brendan Gan at the start of the second half changed all that.
Azam was left to sit at the base and become the dictator of Malaysia's game while Brendan and Syamer offered the support in wider positions as well as further up front. All of which gave Azam in particular plenty of passing options as Malaysia controlled the game against a 10-man Tajikistan.
Despite a less than impressive half of international football for Baddrol, Cheng Hoe remained nevertheless pleased with the experienced Kedah man and sees great value in having a figurehead like him in the squad for others to look up to.
"Baddrol played okay in his first 45 minutes back to the national team. He did well as the first line of defence in his defensive midfield role, at the same time he also gave the team a lot of calm. He's the one the junior look to for guidance when on the pitch," explained Cheng Hoe.
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