THE national Under-23 football team failed to get a medal in the Games but they can be proud of one thing – they did not lose a single game in the regulation 90 minutes.
Even in the bronze medal playoff against Indonesia, the Harimau Muda should have won in regulation time if only they had buried their chances.
Syahir Bashah, Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak, Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin and Safwan Mazlan had so many shots at goal but only Hadi got on the scoresheet in the 80th minute.
The boys showed great attacking flair, a trait that gave them great hope for the AFC Under-23 Asian Cup beginning next Wednesday.
They also showed good tactical discipline except in the 2-2 draw against Cambodia in the group stages.
However, their best effort must have been in the semi-final against Vietnam.
They showed great defensive solidity, intensity and work rate. Every player averaged a distance of 12km in that match!
Luqman and Hadi were the team’s top scorers with three goals each, but the standout has to be centreback Harith Haiqal Adam Afkar, who showed consistency in every game.
The Selangor boy, a product of the Akademi Mokhtar Dahari (AMD), was a real leader at the back with his calmness and intelligence.
The 20-year-old does not make rash challenges and is always able to nullify defenders even in one-on-one situations. His passes from the back are well-timed and looks to be the next great centreback of Malaysia.
However, he knows that he – and his teammates – need to improve a lot before they can be considered top players.
“Our journey was not a 100% success. A win against Indonesia would have been wonderful, but that did not happen. However, we did have some sweet moments,” said Harith.
“The 2-1 win over Thailand was incredible. It was a challenging game.
“The semi-final against Vietnam in front of a 20,000 crowd was amazing. Although we lost, the crowd applauded our performance. We were superb defensively.
“But we realised in that game that when we try to start a move, we misplace our passes. That has to stop. Our passing and technique have to be better.
“In defence, we have been good but our attack needs more sting. We will work together on this before we fly to Uzbekistan,” said the player who named coach Lim Teong Kim and Brad Maloney as essential pillars in his career.
Despite finishing out of the medals, there is a bright future for this team.
The Cambodia SEA Games next year might be their fairy tale.