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 By Paul Murphy

Malaysia qualification task now 'complicated' at AFC U23 - Ong

Malaysia national coach Ong Kim Swee
Malaysia's task has become a lot more complicated because of a zero goal difference says coach Ong Kim Swee.

Datuk Ong Kim Swee admits Friday's 3-0 defeat to Thailand has made things "complicated" in Malaysia's bid to progress from Group H in the 2018 AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.

Harimau Malaya have the three points earned in the 3-0 victory over Indonesia on Matchday 1, but their goal difference is back at zero. Thailand can now clinch top spot in the group and qualification for the finals in China if they can beat the Indonesians on Sunday.

If the Malaysians defeat Mongolia as expected, it will be enough for a runners up spot at least, but that does not guarantee qualification. This may mean going to the finals will require results in other groups to go their way.

Only the 10 group winners and five best runners up will travel to China next year, so Malaysia's hopes hang in the balance.

"It's a very complicated group," Ong said "If we don't lose against Mongolia, our fate depends on the other groups. We now have three points, but zero goal difference, so it's very complicated.

"It would be much better if we had a positive goal difference because we have to look at the other nine groups. But as long as we don't lose against Mongolia, there is a chance."

The head coach admitted that Thailand's 1-1 draw with Mongolia on Matchday 1 had perhaps made things more difficult on Friday. Dropping two points to the side that everyone was expected to beat comfortably seemed to sting the Thais into action.

"If you think about Thailand's result against Mongolia, it made a lot of difference," Ong said. "We know that Thailand have quality and we gave them too much respect and room in the first half.

"We got carried away and made mistakes.The second goal in first-half injury time definitely killed off our hopes of coming back."

Ong admitted that the quality of the Thai squad had made it tough to compete. While many of the Malaysians' best U23 players were not released by their clubs, the Thai League (T1) was suspended to accommodate this tournament. As a result, Thailand's starting lineup consisted of several regular first team members of some of the top T1 clubs.

"We probably showed too much respect to Thailand but, of course, they have a lot of depth," Ong said. "They changed six players from the first eleven that started against Mongolia. I can't afford to do this.

"The players that we had showed a good attitude and commitment. Without quality, a good attitude and commitment will sometimes get you a result, but sometimes not.

"When Thailand can afford to change six players and perform this well, it shows they are at a different level. I can say that they are still the number one team in Southeast Asia, whether at senior level or U23 level."

Malaysia will now have to overcome Mongolia on Sunday afternoon to keep their hopes of progress alive. All eyes will then turn to the evening clash between Thailand and Indonesia to settle Group H and, perhaps then, to other groups to work out who the best runners up are.

Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK

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