Football coach Ong urges final focus

KUALA LUMPUR • SEA Games organisers have played down fears that trouble might erupt at today's men's football final.

Malaysia are set to play Thailand in one of the most hotly anticipated fixtures of the Games. But there have already been problems surrounding football matches. Malaysian fans came under fire for chanting "Singapore dogs" when their side played Singapore and two Myanmar fans were beaten up.

Football has caused trouble at previous SEA Games - there was a deadly stampede in the final at the Jakarta Games in 2011.

But SEA Games Federation president Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar played down concerns of possible trouble today, noting fans in the semi-finals had been "very well-behaved".

Low Beng Choo, secretary of the Games' sports and technical committee, said sports officials had already met representatives of Malaysian fan groups before the semi-finals.

"I don't think we need to meet them again... we've reached an understanding," she said.

More than 80,000 fans are expected to throng the Shah Alam Stadium today as many lined up to buy tickets from 10pm on Sunday.

Expectations are sky-high after the hosts narrowly beat Indonesia 1-0 in the semi-finals to stand on the verge of their sixth title in the competition.

However, Malaysia's coach urged his team to keep their feet on the ground and not be swept up by a wave of excitement.

Ong Kim Swee, who also coached Malaysia when they last won the SEA Games tournament in 2011, told his players to stay calm against Thailand, the holders and 15-time champions.

"It's good that we didn't concede against Indonesia. This will give us more confidence heading into the final. But we must stay grounded," said Ong, according to The Star. "Thailand are a good team. We have to be focused against them."

Captain Adib Zainuddin said "the team is in tip-top condition and the players are very eager to play until the final whistle".

He added: "We have come this far and this is the best opportunity for Malaysia to nail the title and therefore I hope all players will fight to the end.

"Thailand are the best team in South-east Asia and to beat them is a dream of all teams competing in the SEA Games."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BERNAMA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2017, with the headline 'Football coach Ong urges final focus'. Print Edition | Subscribe