Ong says Malaysia can match South Korea in AFC quarters
Malaysia head coach Ong Kim Swee has told his players to forget the historical significance of their run to the quarterfinals of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship and focus on their crunch clash with South Korea on Saturday.
Malaysia clinched a surprise place in the last eight of the continental competition on their debut appearance, thanks to a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, which saw them advance from Group C.
But while Ong appreciates the significance of the team's performance, he has called for an end to discussion of how they have made history.
"It's another new ride for us, but Korea have been in this stage for a very long time," Ong said. "They have a lot of success in these youth tournaments.
"We are looking forward and hoping we can match them in every way possible.
"I think it's about time for us to stop talking about history. It's good to have history back home but now we have to focus on our quarterfinal and it won't be easy.
"We did very well in the last two games and I expect another battle and my players will have to work really, really hard against South Korea."
Malaysia have steadily improved since kicking off their campaign with a 4-1 loss at the hands of Iraq. A draw against Jordan was followed by that win over the Saudis, taking the country into the knockout rounds.
South Korea, a nation with one of the strongest historical records at youth level in Asia, represent a major challenge for Ong and his team. However, the Malaysians have the advantage of having had one more day's rest than their opponents.
Ong, though, believes the impact of that additional recovery period will be limited given Korea's strength in depth.
"It's good to have one more day rest compared to South Korea but, as I said, Korea have been here at these stages for a very long time and I believe they have depth, so it doesn't matter if they have two or three days' rest," he said.
"The remaining players who haven't played for them are capable of taking any of the spots that are left by any of their key players."
Fifteen of the Malaysia squad in China were involved in the run to the final of the Southeast Asian Games on home soil last August.
While the Young Tigers pushed Thailand all the way before losing that final 1-0, Ong knows that facing off against a team of Korea's quality represents a tougher challenge in Kunshan.
"I don't see playing in a big game as an issue for our players, but in terms of playing at this kind of intensity and against quality teams, this will definitely be a big challenge for the boys," he said.
"I hope they will come out with something. As I said before the tournament started, we are here to learn but at the same time we are here to create an upset."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch