National youth coach Ong Kim Swee brushed off criticism of the national Under-23’s involvement at the World University Games by pointing to his side’s historic quarter-final achievement as a sign of progress.
The under-strength squad, decimated by injury to a number of key players even before arriving in Kazan, Russia, has had three players red carded while two others have also been laid low by injury.
Malaysia reached the last-eight, where they meet a rampant Japan team today, by finishing second in the three-team Group C after Italy beat Great Britain 1-0 to leave all three tied on three points and separated only by goal difference.
“Whatever people say, it’s good to be in the quarter-finals,” said Kim Swee when contacted in Kazan yesterday. “If you have a look at the football that is being played here, you will see that the standard is very high.
“We are the lowest ranked team in the tournament so for us to be in the top eight is a big achievement. But most importantly the boys are learning from the experience.”
After beating Italy 2-0 and losing 2-0 to Britain, Malaysia face their biggest test yet against Japan, who won all three of their matches by scoring nine goals against Turkey (4-0), Ukraine (4-1) and Uruguay (1-0).
“I watched Japan (Tuesday) and I have to say they are much better than their Olympic team,” said Kim Swee, who was in charge when Japan beat Malaysia 2-0 in Tosu and 4-0 in Bukit Jalil in two Olympic qualifiers in 2011 and 2012.
“Since this Japan team is an Under-27 side, they have greater maturity and move the ball well. They could even afford to field their reserves against Uruguay and still won after already securing top spot in their group before the match.
“We will be playing with an Under-23 squad and that too without so many key players so it will be a very challenging match.”
Kim Swee’s squad are down to the bare bones with only 12 players fit and available, including two goalkeepers, while defender K. Prabakaran is rated 50-50 with an injury.
Nazirul Naim Che Hashim and Amirzafran Wan Nadris are out through injury while forward Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim and winger Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria are suspended.