Thanabalan is Malaysia's 'treat' after SEA Games brace says coach Ong
Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee paid tribute to two-goal hero N. Thanabalan, describing him as a "treat" after Malaysia powered into the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games' semifinals with a 3-1 victory over Myanmar at Shah Alam Stadium on Monday night.
The Felcra FC striker's double, along with a Safawi Rasid header, means that Malaysia will finish top of Group A if they beat Laos in their final preliminary game on Wednesday.
"Thana for me has great goal instincts, and is such a hardworking player," Ong told ESPN FC.
"As you can see, he was of full of running for 96 minutes. He is a treat for any team to have. Today's victory also proved that we can beat anyone if we come prepared.
"We were struggling in the first two games, but if we stick to our game plan we can beat anyone."
Myanmar had come into this match as Malaysia's strongest adversaries, but they were surprisingly below par, offering only brief spells of pressure.
In contrast, the Malaysians looked hungry, with a committed, quality display all over the park. Ong's biggest concern will be keeping as many fresh legs as possible before the last four. He also called on his team to focus throughout the 90 minutes.
"That goal was our mistake. Concentration towards the end of the game is what we are looking to improve on. A win against Laos is still our main priority," he said.
Thanabalan, meanwhile, says his predatory prowess comes down to instinct, and timing.
"As a striker, it is our jobs to be in the box when crosses are put in. We have to anticipate the deliveries and try and react quicker than anyone else," Thanabalan said.
"We are not there yet, as we still have another game against Laos to confirm our spot as group champions. We will come out to do exactly that."
For Myanmar coach Gerd Zeise, it was pure frustration to see his players turn in a half-baked performance.
"Malaysia came out clearly wanting to win this game, unlike my team. I am disappointed with most of them. The first half was a shame to Myanmar, no one did as they were asked," Zeise said.
"We didn't do enough and had so many missed passes. We have five days to recover after this before preparing for Vietnam, who will most likely be our opponents."
Should they defeat Laos, Ong's men are likely to face either Indonesia or defending champions Thailand, who are tied on seven points, behind Vietnam on nine.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.