PETALING JAYA: It’s been a year since Kim Pan-gon took on the job as Harimau Malaya coach – and he is relishing every bit of his time in the country.
It has been a fruitful one year for the South Korean. He has taken the team to the Asia Cup – on merit for the first time in 42 years – the AFF Mitsubishi Cup semi-final and to second place in the King’s Cup in Thailand.
He has seen his charges win 11 of the 17 matches he led them into. And more importantly, he has seen the team rise in the FIFA world rankings – from 154th in August 2021 before he took over to 145th now.
With the achievements of the last year, expectations are high on Pan-gon and he admits the pressure is the hardest part of his job.
For the next one year, he has to prepare the team for the AFC Asia Cup in Doha, Qatar and he also has the 2026 World Cup/2027 Asian Cup joint qualifiers.
The 53-year-old coach, who gave his first press conference on Feb 20 last year, said that despite the pressure, he has been satisfied with the growth shown in the last year.
“Since I came to Malaysia, there has been a lot of pressure after the team got booted out of the 2021 AFF Suzuki Cup in the group stages,” he said.
“I brought my coaching staff, and they were under pressure too from day one. They worked hard, met my demands and made sure we worked to get Malaysia to play their style.
“We were aggressive, dynamic and dominated our games. The focus was to press early and attack quickly. I am glad the boys we called up could cope with it.”
To get ready for the Asia Cup, Pan-gon has some friendlies lined up, beginning with Turkmenistan on March 23 and Hong Kong on March 28 at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Iskandar Puteri, Johor.
Both won’t be easy.
Pan-gon said world No. 135, Turkmenistan, and Hong Kong, ranked 146, will be out for revenge after losing in previous matches.
Malaysia beat Hong Kong 2-0 in a friendly and Turkmenistan 3-1 in the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, both at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in June.
“Turkmenistan are a good team. They will want to prove themselves by challenging us again. The same goes for Hong Kong, who couldn’t bring their best players from China because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This time, they will bring their best. This will be a good challenge for us.”
FAM president Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin, who was also at the press conference, said he hoped the Harimau Malaya can push themselves to qualify for the last 16 in the Asia Cup.
Asked about it, Pan-gon said: “It would be beautiful if it happens.
“But the hard work starts now, and we have to plan many competitive matches.
“Expectations are high, but we look forward to the challenge.”
> Qualified for Asia Cup 2024.
> Qualified for AFF Mitsubishi Cup semi-final.
> Runners-up at King’s Cup in Thailand.
> Won 11 out of 17 matches in 2022.