National football coach Tan Cheng Hoe is the first to admit that the present Thailand team is far better than last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup team but Malaysia is “not intimidated” in any way when the two clash in Thursday’s World Cup 2023/Asia Cup 2022 qualifier.
The two ASEAN hopes clash at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil in a Group G match – with both teams needing a win. The Thais, under their new Japanese coach Akira Nishino, have been a revelation and sit on the top of the group.
The Thais are favorites to continue their impressive form, including a 2-1 win over group favorites the United Arab Emirates at home last month. On the other hand, Malaysia picked up its second successive defeat, losing 0-1 to Vietnam in Hanoi.
Thailand and Vietnam have seven points each after three matches with goal difference separating the two ASEAN giants with the UAE in the third spot with six points followed by Malaysia fourth on three. Indonesia is winless after four matches.
“This is a new look Thai team under Nishino. They have shown vast improvements overall. On paper, Thailand will start a favorite. At the same time, we will not take that lying down. I have told the players to be more energetic and aggressive in their game.
“There is more hunger in the Thai team. We must also have the same hunger. Our players have shown more motivation in training and I hope we can translate that zest and enthusiasm when we play Thailand.
“I must admit that we played below par against Vietnam in the last match. Let that be a lesson to us. We must start our revival against Thailand,” said Cheng Hoe after a training session on Wednesday morning at the stadium.
Cheng Hoe revealed that he will not decide on his team until hours before the match as he wants to have a final look at Mohamadou Sumareh who has hamstring “tightness”. However, the Gambia-born naturalized Malaysian came through full training sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
New call-up Afiq Fazail also gave a “thumbs up” during his training although he joined the team much later as he was given special leave for his marriage. The Johor Darul Takzim midfielder did not play in Malaysia’s Tier 1 international friendly against 116 ranked Tajikistan at the National Stadium last Saturday. Malaysia ranked 158, won the match 1-0 with Safawi Rasid netting the winner in the 72nd minute.
Malaysia needs to beat Thailand, ranked 109, and also Indonesia on Nov 19 to keep their hopes alive in Group G. RIZAL ABDULLAH