IT’S time to look forward and move on for the national Under-23 football team after missing out on the “mother of all gold medals” in the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
Heavyweights Thailand underlined their supremacy in the biennial Games by picking up their third consecutive gold medal – defeating Malaysia 1-0 and breaking the hearts of more than 80,000 fans at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday.
All it took was a bizarre own goal by goalkeeper Mohamed Haziq Nadzli, who inexplicably punched the ball into his own net from midfielder Phitiwat Sookjitthummakul’s corner kick in the 38th minute.
It was Malaysia’s second loss in a final to Thailand, having suffered from an equally horrendous goalkeeping mistake in the final at KL 2001.
National Under-23 team coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee, who was quick to absolve Haziq of any blame, said he would now switch their focus to preparing for the AFC Under-23 Championship in China in January.
“It was a difficult situation for Haziq and mistakes can happen. We cannot blame him. He’s still young and still learning,” said Kim Swee, who guided the team to the gold medal at Jakarta 2011.
“We have a few more months to go before the AFC Championship. Once the M-League ends, we’ll get the players back for training. We need to prepare well. We will not be going there to just make up the numbers.
“We’re not far away from the other top teams in the region. I think it’s all a matter of maturity and exposure. The players need to experience playing in international matches.”
Commenting on the final against Thailand, the former international admitted that his side were doing well until the howler from Haziq.
“There was no pressure in the final. The boys played hard and were well-prepared. We were not struggling at any time in the match,” said the 46-year-old coach.
“We got off to a good start, but we handed them a goal. We tried to push back but we could not find any breakthrough.
“I’m disappointed not to win the gold medal but I’m satisfied with the players’ overall performance, especially with the limited time we had to train together.
“We have shown that we can compete with the best teams in this region.
“The Thai players were more mature and more experienced. That probably gave them a slight advantage. We need to catch up with them.”
Thailand coach Worrawoot Srimaka is also looking forward to the AFC Under-23 Championships, saying that “playing in front of the 80,000 crowd (at the Shah Alam Stadium) has given my young charges invaluable experience”.
“We were lucky because Malaysia could have also scored early in the game. Thankfully, we got an unexpected goal,” he said.
“There’s not much difference between the teams in the SEA Games. We just came prepared to win despite this not being our best team.
“We have many quality players who will join us and improve us as a team for the AFC tournament.”See our full coverage of SEA Games 2017
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