Can Malaysia led by Luqman take advantage of injury-hit Vietnam?

On the move: Malaysia will be banking on Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin (left) to deliver when they meet Vietnam in a must-win tie. — FAM

PETALING JAYA: The national Under-23 team have a do-or-die mission against injury-hit Vietnam to stay afloat in the AFC Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar.

The boys under the charge of head coach Juan Torres Garrido will be hoping to salvage some pride today after losing 0-2 to Uzbekistan in their opening Group D match on Wednesday.

The Harimau Muda are in need of points before heading for their final group stage match against Kuwait on Tuesday.

With only the top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout stage, Malaysia have to deliver a positive result against Vietnam if they wish to reach their target of the quarter-finals.

There is a glimmer of hope for the boys led by Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin as Vietnam have been hit by several misfortunes.

Vietnam got their three points after taking down Kuwait 3-1 on Wednesday, but an early injury for striker Nguyen Dinh Bac has left him unable to continue playing in the tournament.

In Vietnam’s defensive line, they will be without Nguyen Ngoc Thang, as the defender was sent off in the added time of first half.

With the possibility of striker Nguyen Quoc Viet also missing the match due to a fever, it leaves Garrido the opportunity to find avenues to come out on top.

Garrido, however, has his own issues to worry. Players’ fitness and weakness in defence has been glaring but he’s fixing it.

“It’s tough to determine the players’ fitness with just two days break in between fixtures,” said Garrido.

“Fitness is a tough subject as we are coming into this tournament in pre-season status.

“Additionally this competition only allows two days of rest in between matches. So it’s hard to say on players’ fitness just after one game,” he said.

With the Super League only starting next month, getting players to top level of match fitness has been a challenge not just for Juan Torres, but also for the Harimau Malaya during their World Cup qualifiers campaign last month.

The fitness of the Harimau Muda will be on display against the industrious Vietnam, whose Under-23 side they have yet to beat in the last five meetings.

The defensive line are also desperate to plug the gaps with opponents dominating inside the box, having given away four penalties in the last three matches.

There is extra motivation for all teams to go the distance as the Asian Cup also serves as the Paris Olympics qualifiers, with the top three finishers earning a ticket to Pairs, while the fourth finisher will play against African nation Guinea.

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