Defying the odds

Joy all over: (From left) Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin, Nor Azfar Zikri and Mohd Hairiey Hakik celebrates Azfar’s goal against Laos. — Photo by AFC

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s 1-0 victory over Laos in the AFC Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers may seem insipid but it was an above average display under the circumstances.

Firstly, the game was played on the artificial pitch at the MFF Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on Monday. It certainly made controlling the ball an unenviable task.

Secondly, referee Sadullo Gulmoroddi seems to take lightly the robust play of the Laotian players.

Malaysia had 70% possession but could not make much head way until coach Brad Maloney’s clever and timely triple substitution in the 66th minute became the game changer.

One of the substitutes Quentin Cheng, who came in for Azam Azmi Murad, unleashed a crisp cross from the right for Nor Azfar Zikri to tap the ball into the net past Laos goalkeeper Solasak Thilavong for the only goal of the match.

“Throughout the game, we stuck to what we do well, kept our pattern play, but we needed some difference. I am glad the substitutes came in and made good contributions.

“They had a huge influence. Quentin was the reason why we got the win today,” said Australian Maloney.

“As expected it was a tough and competitive match. We were lucky to get in a goal. We face Mongolia next and we expect another difficult match.

“Plus, we are playing on a fast pitch so it will be a challenging match. It won’t get any easier but we will give our best in every game.”

Goalscorer Nor Azfar, making his first appearance in a major international competition, was delighted with his goal.

“It feels good to get the goal. We are getting comfortable with the weather and it’s good to start with three points. I want to dedicate this victory to all the Malaysian fans who’ve been with us through thick and thin.”

Malaysia play Mongolia on Thursday and Thailand on Sunday for a place in the final round of the Under-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June 2022.

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