The AFC U23 Championship qualifiers will kick off on Friday March 22 when Malaysia take on Philippines at Shah Alam Stadium and it was at the same venue where Ong Kim Swee's team played their final warm-up match against Australia to come away with a morale boosting 1-1 draw.
Malaysia started poorly in the first half as Australia immediately took control of the match. Despite making numerous errors and allowing the away team plenty of opportunities, Malaysia somehow made it to half time with the score still intact. That however quickly changed just four minutes into the restart as centre back Brandon Wilson put Australia 0-1 in front.
With Akhyar Rashid, Nik Akif Syahiran, Hadi Fayyadh and Jafri Chew all looking out of sorts, Kim Swee threw on the substitutes and was rewarded with a mesmerising performance in particular from Pahang's tricky winger, Faisal Halim. The diminutive player was Malaysia's best player on the pitch and with him on the pitch, the home team finally were able to trouble Australia's defence.
"In terms of performance, we didn't do well. In terms of result, it's good when you hear we drew with Australia. But we still need to improve in a lot of positions, especially in terms of movement so these four days before our first game, we need to work very very hard. That's why we have this game against Australia because you can see our weakness as well as our strengths."
"We have to understand that these people who don't play much. For Haziq (Nadzli), it's good to have a senior goalkeeper in the Under-23 but sometimes he overdo things. It's all about minutes of play and I believe he will learn from his mistakes today and he'll able to rectify it if he's fielded," said Kim Swee in the post-match press conference.
In the match, Kim Swee opted to field Syamer Kutty Abba in the heart of the defence, not the first time that he has opted for a midfielder to play in the centre of a back three. Having previously worked his magic with Irfan Zakaria, it looks like Syamer is next to fit the bill as the midfielder looked very comfortable leading the defence.
"He (Syamer) did very well for me, first time playing as a centre back. As I've said before, I still couldn't find the best combination for the three at centre back. And today with Syamer there and I hope Dominic (Tan) recover, I hope we can get a good combination there. And today Shahrul Nizam did very well," added Kim Swee.
Substitute Nik Azli Nik Alias' mazy run in the fourth minute of added time in the second half ended up with his shot completely left Daniel Marguesh the Australian goalkeeper stranded as the ball trickled in right at the death to secure an undeserved draw for Malaysia.
In the match, Danial Amier was good prior to him being taken off the field while Syahmi Safari showed some good touches on the right hand side but the star of the show was undoubtedly Faisal. Coming into the match at the start of the second half, he had the Australian defenders in sixes and sevens with his skills and speed on the ball.
"Very good. He (Faisal) did very well. You know he's very fast and that will be very important for us. We have a few strikeforce that I can use. Safawi did not play today, certain games you'll need Hadi's height, so I have a few options with the strikers," enthused Kim Swee.
When Malaysia take to the field against Philippines on Friday, it may well be a different starting XI that Kim Swee will select for the group opener. But after such a strong showing from Faisal in particular, the head coach could well be looking to forced to give him more minutes on the pitch.
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