Following a draw against lowly Macau, Ong Kim Swee tells players to accept the bitter truth that they are not good enough to go up against minnows.
It was a game many expected to supply a morale-boosting win, with many expecting a convincing win at Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca.
However, the Malaysians’ lack of impetus was evident for all to see as the Tigers were booed off the pitch, with Macau even cheered on the few occasions they attacked towards the end of the match.
And Ong, who warned against overexpectations in his pre-match press conference on Monday, delivered a scathing verdict following his team’s performance.
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“This result is very worrying, it is far from good and in fact a bitter experience. Everyone needs to respond to this, including myself,” said Ong.
“As coach, I have to take responsibility as well and it is my duty to respond to this. This result hasn’t stopped me from thinking what more needs to be done with the team in coming months.
“There is a lot to work on.”
There have been calls for changes in the national team, with many calling for the injection of youth in the squad.
Ong left out long-serving skipper Safiq Rahim in favour of Nazmi Faiz Mansor and kept the likes of S. Kunanlan, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and Khairul Fahmi Che Mat on the bench.
Safiq sat on the bench all night despite Malaysia evidently missing his creativity and stability in the engine room.
The Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) star’s exclusion was a peculiar one but Ong reiterated that the 28-year-old lynchpin will remain key in the squad for the foreseeable future.
Rumours were rife that Ong was asked to omit Safiq to keep him fresh for JDT’s hectic April schedule but the Malaysia coach later insisted that he was compelled to give Nazmi and Hafiz Kamal a run out.
“Safiq has played so many games already. I saw this as a chance to give some players a run, to give them a chance,” the trainer added.
“That’s why he did not play. I made the call to keep him out because we need to able to play without him as well … if he is injured of suspended.
“I can’t say those that came in never took their chance but it was certainly not good enough.
“We did create a lot chance but most of them went begging. The finishing let me down to be frank, and these were arguably the best forwards in Malaysia. Who is playing regularly and can come into the squad immediately?
“It didn’t help that Macau had 10 men behind the ball, the same as us against Saudi Arabia, but the difference was Saudi were of a different class and eventually found a way through while we didn’t grab the opportunities when Macau’s defence made mistakes.”
Ong goes back to the drawing board ahead of the Asian Cup qualifiers playoff in June. The Tigers will know their opponents next Thursday.
Among the countries in the play-off are Yemen, Timor Leste, Maldives, Chinese Taipei, Laos and Cambodia.