KUALA LUMPUR – National head coach, Tan Cheng Hoe and his boys will be under tremendous pressure to deliver a win in the match against Thailand on Wednesday morning in the 2022 World Cup / 2023 Asian Cup qualifying campaign.
This do or die task falls on Cheng Hoe’s shoulders as Malaysia will be playing their last second round Group G game after Harimau Malaya lost to United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Vietnam earlier.
The two consecutive defeats put Malaysia in the fourth place of Group G which had snuffed out the opportunity of the national squad to the World Cup apart from having to go through a more challenging pathway to clinch a slot in the Asian Cup finals.
Sharing nine points with Thailand who are in third place, only a win would ensure Malaysia seize a slot to the third qualifying round of the 2023 Asian Cup without having to face even greater risks through a playoff.
The battle was made even more difficult for Cheng Hoe after three players; La’Vere Corbin-Ong, Syamer Kutty Abba and Mohamadou Sumareh who were in the first eleven against Vietnam could not be fielded at Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai as they would be serving match suspension.
Nonetheless, the situation would open up opportunities for the younger players to prove their worth among them, right winger, Arif Aiman Mohd Hanapi, 19, who put up a credible performance against Vietnam while defender Muhammad Syahmi Safari, 23, had a good record against Thailand.
Arif Aiman proved his prowess when he was brought in to replace Sumareh in the Saturday morning match while Muhammad Syahmi scored to help Malaysia subdue Thailand in the 2018 AFF Cup semi-finals in Bangkok.
Based on the past 10 encounters with Thailand since December 2010, Malaysia have only won two with four draws and four losses.
Nonetheless, Cheng Hoe has not lost in the three matches against the War Elephants since taking over as national squad coach in December 2017.
In fact, the last meeting, in November 2019, saw Harimau Malaya winning 2-1 with goals from Brendan Gan and Sumareh in the group qualifying campaign at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
After severe criticisms from fans following the 0-4 loss to UAE and 1-2 defeat to Vietnam, the national squad has no choice but to come back with at least a win or bear the brunt of local football enthusiasts.
Nonetheless, applying further pressure could affect the performance of Harimau Malaya in the battle against Thailand who are just as desperate to collect full points after a 2-2 draw with Indonesia and 1-3 defeat to UAE earlier.
In fact, statistics on the qualifying campaign, showed Thailand having a more robust defence compared to Malaysia when they conceded only eight goals in seven matches while Malaysia let in 12.
Based on world rankings, Thailand are in a far better position at 106th compared to Malaysia at 153rd.
For the coming match, the national squad should take noted of Thailand’s style of short passes and speed while acknowledging the capability of several Thai players including 18-year-old striker, Suphanat Mueanta.
Suphanat, who plays for Buriram United is among the best prospects of the Thai team, after having proven his worth as the youngest striker in the Thai League as well as in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League competition.
Nonetheless, football is a team game and Harimau Malaya need to bounce back from the disappointment of two defeats by putting on a commendable performance to find victory.
To achieve the mission, Cheng Hoe needs a line -up of players who are at the highest level of fitness to stop the Thais, but the players must be willing to sacrifice by giving everything to salvage national pride throughout 90 minutes of the game.
After losing to the UAE and Vietnam, it is time for Cheng Hoe to give breathe new life into his team to succeed in the mission to scuttle Thailand and finish the Group G qualifying campaign in third place.