SINGAPORE - Despite missing four players who are isolating after testing positive for Covid-19, Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe on Saturday (Dec 11) backed his team to pull an upset over defending champions Vietnam in their Suzuki Cup Group B game at the Bishan Stadium on Sunday night.
"Definitely, our boys are looking forward to surprising Vietnam," he said at the pre-game press conference. "We know they have depth in their team, but what is most important is our own strategy and plan to play against them."
A win on Sunday would be Malaysia's first over Vietnam in eight attempts - their last win was in the second-leg semi-final of the 2014 Suzuki Cup - and would all but secure progress into the semi-final for Tan's men. They had beaten Cambodia (3-1) and Laos (4-0) in their first two matches.
There is added spice to the fixture as it is a rematch of the final of the last edition of the Suzuki Cup, which was won by Vietnam. In the two-legged final, the two sides drew 2-2 in Kuala Lumpur before Vietnam won 1-0 in Hanoi.
Both coaches at the helm then - Tan for Malaysia and Park Hang-seo for Vietnam - are still in their posts today.
Since then, Malaysia and Vietnam have met twice more - in World Cup qualifiers in October 2019 and June 2021 - with the latter coming out tops both times.
Tan, however, did not appear bothered by the past and was focused fully on the future. He conceded that Vietnam's stature - they were the only South-east Asian team that progressed to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers, and are currently the only Asean team ranked in the top 100 in the world - made them the favourites in Sunday's tie.
The coach is also hamstrung without the services of the four self-isolating players including star winger Akhyar Rashid, as well as injured half-Swedish midfielder Junior Eldstal, and half-Belgian wing-back Dion Cools, who has yet to arrive in the Republic.
Still, Tan stressed: "We have to believe and be positive in our mindset, that whatever the situation, we have to show up and play to our ability."
Vietnam midfielder Luong Xuan Truong, who attended the media conference in place of South Korean coach Park, said their players would not underestimate their rivals.
"It has always been tough for us against Malaysia," said the 26-year-old. "They have good technique and tactics, and they are very physical and very strong in body contact."
Luong also said he and his teammates were looking forward to the clash, describing it as an acid test to their hopes of retaining their title.
"This game is the highlight of the group stage… and if we want to be the champions, we need to overcome this difficulty," he said.
The game between Malaysia and Vietnam will kick off at 8.30pm. The other Group B match, between Indonesia and Laos, will kick off at 5.30pm, also at Bishan.