Ong Kim Swee: Reclaiming Malaysia's SEA Games gold is my biggest challenge

Defending champions Thailand will start the 2017 SEA Games as hot favourites for gold, but Malaysia under-22 coach Ong Kim Swee has plans in place to try to upset the formbook and repeat the success he enjoyed back in 2011, as he told Vijhay Vick...

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It has been a turbulent 12 months for Ong Kim Swee.

He barely got the cooperation of the country’s biggest club Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) during his tenure as Malaysia coach, oversaw Harimau Malaya’s disastrous 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, lost his father and was later demoted to the Malaysia Under-22 squad immediately after Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim became Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president in March.

I got the first one in 2011 but I missed the last two ... of course on our home ground I’d love to have the gold medal back

- Ong Kim Swee

The under-22 appointment came as a shock as German Frank Bernhardt had been hired at the start of 2016 to prepare the squad for the AFC Under-23 qualifiers in July and the hyped up SEA Games campaign on home soil in August.

On Ong's side, however, is the fact he coached Malaysia at the past three SEA Games, so he is certainly no stranger to the multi-sport regional competition.

He had his first training camp earlier this month and felt the three-week period, which included a three-match tour in China, went well as results were rather favourable.

Malaysia lost the opening match 1-0 to China Under-22 but came from two goals down to hold Guangzhou R&F’s reserves 2-2 in the following match before recording a 3-0 win over the Guangzhou Evergrande reserves in the final match.

“Everyone has been asking me to compare this squad to the one I had in 2015, but it won’t be fair to do so, especially at this stage,” Ong told FourFourTwo.

“I need more time to see the 2017 squad … I can’t say which is better after three weeks and a handful of matches. I need to look at competitive tournaments, so the AFC qualifiers coming up would be a good platform.

The qualifiers will be a very good pre-SEA Games for us because we come up against Thailand and Indonesia ... the two best teams in the region

“It was a very good three weeks we had in June, especially in China. Results are secondary, but more importantly I had the chance to look at all the players, how we play and how we cope with the system I’m trying to implement. There are positive signs.

“If possible I wanted to win all the games there, but it was a good learning process after losing to China and even down 2-0 against the R&F. The boys showed a very committed attitude to come back. I think the one against China was our best match although we lost.”

Malaysia will come up against Thailand and Indonesia at the AFC qualifiers, something Ong feels will serve as an indicator before the Games about their prospects of reclaiming the gold medal they last won at the 2011 edition.

“The qualifiers will be a very good pre-SEA Games for us because we come up against Thailand and Indonesia. These are arguably the two best teams in the region,” said Ong.

“Thailand are the defending champions and Indonesia have done well in recent years. Matches against them will test our ability. We need to be able to cope with high intensity matches, especially against Thailand.”