PETALING JAYA: The writing on the wall is loud and clear – Malaysia cannot afford to slip up against Laos when they meet in the penultimate Group A fixture at the Ansan Wa Stadium (kick-off at 4pm Malaysian time) in Incheon on Wednesday.
This is a do-or-die match for both teams in the Asian Games football competition.
National Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee has to get his game plan spot-on after their 3-0 defeat by hosts South Korea at the Mun Hak Stadium on Sunday. Laos are in the same predicament after losing by a similar score to fancied Saudi Arabia.
On paper, Kim Swee’s boys are expected to win, especially since Kim Swee will unleash his two key players – sweeper Mohd Aidil Zafuan and playmaker Gary Steven Robbat – against Laos today after resting them against South Korea.
“I have looked at all the possibilities. There are no two ways about it. We need to win by at least 3-0,” said Kim Swee.
That would be an ideal result as Malaysia head into the final group match against Saudi Arabia at the Goyang Stadium on Sunday.
Three goals against Laos is quite a big ask but forwards Mohd Norfarhan Mohd, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Mohd Ashri Chuchu will have to get their act right.
Laos will be no pushovers although they have not won a game at the Asiad football competition.
Since making their debut at the Bangkok Asiad in 1998, Laos have lost both their preliminary round matches against Kazakhstan (5-0) and Iran (6-1).
Laos are making only their second Asiad appearance in Incheon.
Malaysia have won two bronze medals in the history of the Asian Games – 1962 in Jakarta and 1974 in Tehran.
Expectations are high on Malaysia to beat Laos. After all, Malaysia have not lost to Laos in the SEA Games football Under-23 competition since 2001. Malaysia defeated them in three previous meetings – 4-0 in Jakarta (2007), 3-1 in Laos (2009) and 4-1 in Myanmar (2013).
For many, the litmus test for Malaysia will come from the Saudis on Sunday. The game against Laos is just a formality. A big win over Laos would put Kim Swee’s boys in a strong position when they start against the Middle East Giants, who are the favourites with South Korea to the next round.
The odds may be against Laos recording their first win in the Asiad but it will be wise not to underestimate them. Laos did well to hold Saudi to a goalless draw until the 75th minute, before they conceded a penalty and ended up losing 3-0.
Malaysia must take heed of the infamous 1997 Jakarta SEA Games incident. Then, Malaysia were expected to beat Laos in the final group match to qualify for the semi-finals. But, to everyone’s surprise, Laos upset Malaysia 1-0.