Malaysia held off a late Timor Leste onslaught to record a 1-0 win in stifling hot Dili on Tuesday afternoon, reviving hopes of a direct entry into the 2019 Asian Cup qualifying final round...
With Malaysian captain Safiq Rahim unexpectedly ruled out at the last minute over a yellow card mix-up, caretaker coach Ong Kim Swee adopted a defensive approach to the game and was left happy with the result over a home side filled with Brazilian-born players.
Ong soon set his sights on Palestine after stand-in captain Amri Yahyah's 10th minute goal moved the Malaysians into fourth place in Group A on four points, one less than third-placed Palestine, although the latter has a game in hand.
Palestine, who ran out 6-0 winners in a lopsided contest in Kuala Lumpur in June, welcome Malaysia for the return fixture on November 12. The Tigers must get a result to stay in contention for a direct slot in the Asian Cup qualifying final round.
If Timor Leste finish fifth in the group and Malaysia end up fourth, Tuesday’s win in Dili will not be counted in the rankings among fourth-placed teams.
Third-placed teams and the next best four teams qualify automatically, while the remaining teams compete in a playoff.
"We needed this win to revive chances of finishing third. We have a tough road ahead," said Ong in his post-match press conference.
"We are in a difficult situation and the players must keep working hard like today, where we held on until the 90th minute.
"I am not bothered (by the defending approach and lack of excitement). What's important is the one goal and three points we got. There is no point in scoring three and letting in four.
"Style of play? Tactically, we did as we prepared. The players must continue staying tactically disciplined."
Ong opted for experience in central defence, partnering Pahang skipper Razman Roslan with former national captain Aidil Zaquan Abdul Radzak. That duo was flanked by emerging talents Matthew Davies and Nazirul Naim Che Hashim.
Wingers Azamuddin Akil and S. Kunanlan did a lot of defensive work, back-tracking to deny Timor Leste space on the flanks.
Safiq's absence allowed Ismail Faruqi game time and the Terengganu star adapted well alongside Baddrol Bakhtiar, despite the team practicing mostly with the Baddrol-Safiq combination on Monday.
Ong claimed he was only informed at the 11th hour that Safiq's yellow card in the abandoned Saudi Arabia match in September was still binding.
"After the decision to award Saudi a 3-0 win, we were told the cards given to Saudi Arabia were rescinded, but we were made to wait whether it applied to us too," said Ong.
"There were uncertainties on the matter and I didn't want to take the risk of leaving Safiq behind if the card was rescinded. Anyway, he is an influential captain and his presence helps the team.
"The match commissioner gave us the green light to field Safiq during the manager's meeting on Monday. At night, he sent his officer to tell us Safiq couldn't play."
While Palestine will host Malaysia in a crucial fixture next month, Timor Leste's next task is a tough trip to group favourites United Arab Emirates on the same day.comments