Ong Kim Swee refuses to give up on Malaysia at AFC U23
CHANGSHU - Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee remains confident his team can make an impression on the AFC U23 Championship when they meet Jordan on Saturday, despite a chastening defeat in their tournament opener.
Ong's team were on the wrong end of a 4-1 thrashing against Iraq, a nation that has a strong record at this level having won the tournament in 2014 and reached the semifinals -- qualifying for the Olympic Games as a result -- two years ago.
Next up is a Jordan side that conceded two late goals to slip to 2-2 draw against Saudi Arabia in their opening game, and who will present Ong and his players with another difficult challenge.
"It's only one game that we have played, so we're not going to throw in the towel yet," said Ong.
"The positives that we had from the first game, we want to make sure we can do those more regularly and we will try to get something from the second game."
Despite the margin of defeat, Malaysia performed admirably and, but for a pair of mistakes that cost them a couple of soft goals, their opening game would have been more competitive.
Their hopes for the game against Jordan have been hampered, however, by a hamstring injury to N. Thanabalan, who was Malaysia's leading scorer in the qualifying rounds. He limped off in the loss to Iraq, and his place is likely to be taken by Akhyar Rashid.
Akhyar came on as a substitute for the final 30 minutes of the Iraq game, setting up Safawi Rashid for his side's only goal of the game.
The Kedah striker is relishing another opportunity to make his mark on the competition, despite the challenging conditions.
"It was tough as the weather was cold," said Akhyar. "The match was really fast, and I had breathing problems due to the weather. I think we played OK except for some mistakes we made.
"I hope I will get some minutes or start against Jordan. The chances of playing are brighter following Thanabalan's injury.
"We have a disadvantage in terms of physical as they are bigger and taller. However, we can overcome this factor by playing to our strengths and also minimising mistakes."
Ong ruled out putting numbers behind the ball in a game from which his side needs at least a point if they are to stay alive in the competition.
"We could use a defensive strategy for every game, but all we would learn is how to defend. We will not learn the game plan we want to," Ong said.
"We need to play our own game if we are to gain exposure and build for the future. We had our positive moments in [the Iraq] game but were not consistent. That was why we could not control the game."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch