KUALA LUMPUR: There are two major lessons the Malaysian juniors have to learn if they want to be a match for the top teams in the world.
First they have to learn to defend a lead and be able to change the pace of the game. Second, they need to think and remain composed when under pressure.
Coach Stephen van Huizen said yesterday that the match against Pakistan, which ended in a 2-2 draw on Wednesday, was an eye opener for the players and it showed them playing an open game throughout a match was not a wise move.
“They have to think during a match and change their game plan accordingly,” said Stephen.
“We fell behind and then came back to take the lead. At that point, they needed to consolidate their position but they continued to play an open game and Pakistan took control.
“I realise that the players lack experience but it is from these kind of matches that they get to learn. Pakistan had nothing to lose. They took the risks and played much better.
“Our team came under a lot of pressure and instead of sticking to what we had told them they started throwing the ball and neglected to play as a unit. That gave Pakistan the upper hand.”
The draw against Pakistan put Malaysia in the final against India. Malaysia's best match in the tournament was against South Korea where they won 3-1. Malaysia drew 1-1 with India.
The tournament has also brought to fore a new combination in the Malaysian defence.
Skipper Engku Malek Abdullah and national fullback Megat Azrafiq have proved to be top-notched central defenders and they are well-supported by flank halves Mohamed Sallehin and Mohamed Shukri.
There is also a good goalkeeper in Khairul Nizam, who is actually the second choice in the juniors rank. The top ranked goalkeeper is Mohamed Hanafi Hassan, who is with the senior team and was not picked for this tournament to allow the others to gain some valuable exposure.
“I have to say that the defence stood out well with Khairul shining in the three matches that we had played,” said Stephen.
“Megat started in a midfield role but we brought him down to partner Engku Malek later in the first match and they proved to be a successful pair. They have good understanding and I think we can build the team around them. Both are also good leaders on the field.”
Stephen added that in S. Bubalan, they also had a good reserve in defence.
The one area that Stephen is concerned about is the midfield, which tends to crack under pressure. “We have talented midfield players but they have not been able to take command of the engine room. This is an area that needs a lot of attention,” he said.
“They have a tendency to lose their way and the playing structure of the team is disrupted. In the final against India, I want to see greater urgency from the midfielders and better control on the flow of the game.”