Football: Malaysia's coach wary of Lions' bite

The Singapore football team. Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee is expecting a hostile reception when he brings his team to Singapore's National Stadium for next week's Causeway Challenge.
The Singapore football team. Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee is expecting a hostile reception when he brings his team to Singapore's National Stadium for next week's Causeway Challenge. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Causeway Challenge may be a friendly but Ong expects S'pore to avenge 2014 defeat

It may be only an international friendly with nothing more than bragging rights at stake, but Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee is still expecting a hostile reception when he brings his team to Singapore's National Stadium for next week's Causeway Challenge.

The Oct 7 clash will be the first time in almost two years since the two eternal rivals last met. Back then, at the same venue, the visitors emerged 3-1 victors and eliminated Singapore from the 2014 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup group stages.

And Ong is mindful that there will be 11 hungry Lions out for blood when they meet next week.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday in a phone interview from the Harimau Malaya's base in Kuala Lumpur, Ong said: "Games between both countries are always emotional. Even though the LionsXII played in the Malaysian Super League for a few years, this is different.

"I'm sure it'll be a special atmosphere for us next Friday."

Losing four of his most experienced players - former national captain Safiq Rahim, Aidil Zafuan, S Kunanlan and Amirul Hadi - to retirement this year has robbed Ong of much-needed leadership.

His 25-man squad contains five new names to the international fold, including England-born striker Darren Lok, who made his Malaysia Premier League debut last Friday as a second-half substitute for Johor Darul Takzim II against Kuala Lumpur.

 

Only defender Ronny Harun (32) and skipper Amri Yahyah (35) are over 30 years old, and Ong conceded he had concerns about the temperament of his players ahead of what is likely to be a highly-charged Causeway Challenge clash.

The former Malaysian international, who took half his team through centralised training on Tuesday (the remainder will join on Sunday after the first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-finals), said: "Some of these boys are young and perhaps this isn't the ideal game to throw them into.

"But that's the only way for them to learn and I'm looking to build a new team for the future."

That might be the long-term goal but all football coaches cannot ignore the present and Ong, who led the Under-23 team to gold at the 2011 SEA Games, is no different.

Since taking charge of Malaysia on a permanent basis in January, he has overseen nine matches with wins, draws and losses split evenly.

However, a 2-0 defeat by minnows Papua New Guinea in June and a 3-0 hiding by Indonesia earlier this month has seen Ong come under pressure.

Like his Singapore counterpart V. Sundramoorthy, both men will be using the Causeway Challenge as one of their final tune-ups before the Nov 19-Dec 17 AFF Championship.

The Tigers, ranked 158th in the world, are in Group B alongside host Myanmar (world No. 153), Vietnam (No. 141) and a qualifier.

A win against Singapore will build momentum and confidence ahead of a major tournament.

Said Ong: "It's still only a friendly so you don't want to get too excited about a win.

"What's more important for me is that this game helps in the development of my team. We started the year ranked world No. 173, so we're moving in the right direction."

• Causeway Challenge tickets (Cat 1: $28 and Cat 2: $18) can be purchased online at www.sportshubtix.sg Concession rates are also available.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia's coach wary of Lions' bite'. Print Edition | Subscribe