Malaysia to learn from AFC U23 success - Ong Kim Swee
Malaysia head coach Ong Kim Swee returned to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, having told his players that they must learn from their run to the quarterfinals of the AFC U23 Championship in China.
The Young Tigers' stint at the continental championship came to an end on Saturday, but not before putting in an impressive performance against South Korea.
The narrow 2-1 defeat to the Koreans suggested their place in the last eight had been deserved.
N. Thanalaban's goal midway through the second half gave Malaysia hope after going behind to a lightning-quick opener from Korea's Cho Jae-Wan.
But Han Seung-Gyu cruelly killed off the Young Tigers' chances of a place in the semi-finals just five minutes from time.
"Overall the boys did very well, and at the end of the day I believe Korea is one of the best teams," Ong said. "They didn't panic, even though we equalised, and they managed to punish us.
"In terms of achievement, we did well but we can't be happy in what we achieved. We have to look back at the situation against Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Korea.
"We have to be consistent in terms of our performance, not do well in one game and then after that not play well. Let's go back and see what can be improved."
Malaysia were on the back foot right from the opening exchanges as a result of Cho's spectacular opener. The Ulsan Hyundai midfielder caught the defence napping as he scored with barely 12 seconds on the clock.
Ong's team steadied themselves, however, with Safawi Rashid and Nor Azam particularly influential as Malaysia turned the game into an entertaining contest rather than the expected easy ride for Kim Bong-Gil's team.
Thanalaban's header was a well-deserved leveler. But, rather than spurring Malaysia on in a quest for a second goal, Ong felt the equaliser prompted his players to relax.
It was to prove to be a fatal mistake.
"To concede in the first minute of the game, it's a lack of concentration and when you play against a good team this is what they will do to you," Ong said.
"I hope that my players will learn because we had not settled and we were punished for a lack of concentration.
"But, overall, the players showed a better performance than they did against Saudi Arabia. We controlled most of the situations after the first goal, but unfortunately after equalising we stopped playing again."
The game was Malaysia's fourth in 11 days since kicking their campaign off with a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Iraq.
They certainly made improvements throughout the tournament, as they drew with Jordan before defeating Saudi Arabia to qualify for the quarterfinals. But Ong knows a gap remains between his team and those at the very top of the Asian game.
"This is the first tournament that we play in a competitive way and my back three and my two full-backs all played four games in a row," Ong said.
"Definitely it took a toll on them and when you play against a strong team who have a lot of depth and can make three or four changes in the line-up. That is what makes the difference between an average team and a quality team."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch