ASC2018: Blessings for gem Mat Yo, prayers for Sumareh

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The national football team left for Hanoi this afternoon – gunning for the vital three points against Vietnam in a crucial AFF Suzuki Cup crucial Group A match at My Dinh Stadium on Friday.

It was mixed emotions for head coach Tan Cheng Hoe when the team flew off, knowing that his Harimau Malaya is sitting on top of the group with maximum points from the first two matches – a 1-0 win away against Cambodia and a 3-1 win over Laos at home.

However, performance wise, his team has yet to “hit the best” in the region’s premier football tournament which is being played on a new home and away format.

But there is one player who needs to be singled out in his team and he is none other than Terengganu-born Pahang striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. His form in this edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup has made many to sit up and take note of the 32-year-old veteran.

Norshahrul is fast turning to be the gem in the team – scoring three goals in two matches – the winner against Cambodia and a brace in the 3-1 win over Laos.

Mat Yo, as Norshahrul is popularly known in the football fraternity, has warmed the heart of Cheng Hoe, other team officials, plus the fans, where others have failed.

“Yes. Mat Yo has been an exception in the tournament. He has delivered and warmed the heart of team officials and others. Many did not take note him at the start of the tournament but that has changed now. He has delivered in the first two matches and he will be a marked man now.

“He will come under scrutiny in Vietnam but we expect that from our opponents,” said Cheng Hoe before leaving with the team for Hanoi.

In the same breath, Cheng Hoe revealed his “concerns and worries” on the hamstring injury sustained by naturalized Malaysian hitman Mohamadou Sumareh which could scupper his match plans in Hanoi.

The Gambian-born Pahang striker did not take the field in the match against Laos and was substituted against Cambodia.

“We still have two days in Hanoi to look at things and I will only decide on him (Sumareh) hours before the match. Much will depend on medical clearance,” added Cheng Hoe, who is also not pleased with the team’s “sloppiness” in the two matches played so far.

There is a fair amount of “confidence” in the team after the two wins and Cheng Hoe hopes his charges will “ride on the momentum” against Vietnam who have played only one match so far – a 3-0 win over Laos away. – BY RIZAL ABDULLAH 

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