National football coach Tan Cheng Hoe is not alarmed by Thailand’s win over group favorites the United Arab Emirates in a World Cup 2022/Asia Cup 2023 qualifier in a Group G match in Bangkok last week.

Instead, Cheng Hoe is more concerned with his own team and is beefing up his Harimau Malaya squad for next month’s home matches against Thailand (Nov 14) and Indonesia (Nov 19).

Thailand, under new Japanese coach Akira Nishino, pulled off a shock 2-1 win over the Arab nation to storm to the top of the group with goals by Teerasil Dangda and Ekanit Panya while ace striker Ali Makhbiout who scored a brace in their 2-1 win against Malaysia, replied for UAE the Thammasat Stadium in Bangkok.

The Thais have seven points from three matches – the same as Vietnam but has but are on top on goal difference (5-1) against Vietnam (4-1). The UAE is in third place with six points followed by Malaysia on three. Indonesia is at the bottom without a point after four matches.

Johor Darul Takzim midfielder Afiq Fazail is a wanted man and Cheng Hoe believes the 25-year-old Pontian-born Afiq is the man who could be a vital cog in his match plans against the Thais and the Indonesians.

Cheng Hoe is impressed with Afiq’s “consistency” in his role as a central or a defensive midfielder – a role that could beef up and stabilize the national team for the coming matches – matches Malaysia needs to win.

Afiq, a former Harimau Muda player, got his first senior international cap under then national coach Nelo Vingada against DPR Korea in 2017.

“Afiq is not only consistent but is also a good reader of the game. He is a matured player now and has played a key role in JDT. He has enough exposure at the international level and has also played for JDT in the AFC Champions League,” said Cheng Hoe.

The midfielder had a good game for JDT against Selangor in the first leg Malaysia Cup semi-final. JDT won 2-1 at the Larkin Stadium with Afiq having a hand in JDT’s winning match scored by Argentine striker Leandro Velazquez in the 49th minute.

Putting that aside, Cheng Hoe reiterated that he is not getting distracted by Thailand’s win over the UAE.

“Yes. They (Thailand) won. I agree that Thailand is a different side under a different coach. There is a change in their style of play. My focus is on my team and I need to get the team into shape for the home matches against Thailand and Indonesia.

“Let us not get carried away with Thailand’s win. I am confident our players will be ready and prepared to take the challenge. It is for the country. To a certain extent, we did not play that well when we lost to Vietnam.

“That is past now…we have to be mentally prepared and fully focused the Thais and the Indonesians at home next month,” added Cheng Hoe, who was at the Thammasat Stadium to watch the Thailand-UAE match. RIZAL ABDULLAH

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