PETALING JAYA: What a surprise! The national Under-23 team have booked their first-ever berth in the AFC Under-23 Finals despite a shambolic preparation.
Yesterday, Datuk Ong Kim Swee’s men beat 10-man Mongolia 2-0 in their final Group H match in the qualifiers at the Supachalasai National Stadium in Bangkok.
Strikers N. Thanabalan (51st minute) and Syazwan Andik Ishak (88th) scored for Malaysia.
Mongolia were reduced to 10 men when defender Uuganbat Bat-Erdene was sent off after picking up his second booking in the 57th minute.
It was an agonising wait for Malaysia as they had to wait for the outcome of the Thailand-Indonesia match later in the day.
To Malaysia’s delight, the match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Malaysia finished top of the group with six points to qualify automatically for next year’s Finals in China.
All 10 group winners qualify for the Finals together with the six best group runners-up.
Malaysia opened their campaign with a 3-0 win over Indonesia on Wednesday but suffered a 3-0 defeat to Thailand on Friday.
Kim Swee admitted that his players were tired and his decision to field their second stringers against Mongolia almost backfired.
“I wanted to use fresh legs as the regulars were tired after playing two matches in three days.
“The replacements I brought in didn’t work in the first half.
“It forced me to bring in our regulars and the changes worked as it produced the goals,” said Kim Swee, who only had five days to whip up the team for the qualifiers as the M-League teams were reluctant to release their players for the centralised camp.
Malaysia had failed to qualify for the Finals in the last two editions of the tournament in 2013 and 2016.
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