AFC U23 Championship
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Malaysia's Ong laments lack of early focus

Saturday, January 20, 2018
Korea Republic v Malaysia

Kunshan: Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee blamed a lack of focus for his side’s slow start to their AFC U23 Championship 2018 quarter-final with Korea Republic, which saw them exit the competition after conceding a goal after just 11.35 seconds.

Ong’s team fought back to level with N. Thanabalan after Cho Jae-wan had given the Koreans the lead with this team’s first attack of the game, while Han Seung-gyu claimed the winner for Kim Bong-gil’s side five minutes from time to set up a semi-final meeting against Uzbekistan on Tuesday.

“To concede in the first minute of the game, it’s a lack of concentration and when you play against a good team this is what they will do to you,” said Ong. “I hope that my players will learn because we had not settled and we were punished for a lack of concentration.

“But, overall, they showed a better performance than they did against Saudi Arabia. We controlled most of the situations after the first goal but unfortunately after equalising we stopped playing again.

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“The boys did very well, but at the end of the day I believe Korea are one of the best teams. They didn’t panic, even though we equalised, and they managed to punish us.”

The defeat brought Malaysia’s run at the tournament to an end with the Southeast Asian nation having picked up a win over Saudi Arabia and drawn with Syria in the group phase to secure their place in the knockout phase of the competition for the first time in their history.

Korea Republic, meanwhile, march on to the semi-finals for the second year in a row having finished as beaten finalists in 2016 and they will take on an Uzbekistan side that convincingly conquered the reigning champions Japan in their own last eight fixture on Friday.

“As you can see Malaysia are a good team and thanks to the efforts of our players, we could win the game,” said coach Kim.

“I was worried about the players’ energy but our players prepared well and if we had scored the second goal earlier it would have been better, but it didn’t come until late in the game and that meant it wasn’t easy. But the players stayed focused and that was why we won.”

The Koreans came into the game having had one day less rest than the Malaysians and after being pushed to the limit in a thrilling 3-2 win over Australia in the final round of group matches, Kim felt a change in approach for Saturday's clash helped his team secure their place in the last four.

“In the game against Australia I asked the players to press strongly in the first half, so the players were exhausted in the second half,” he said. “Today I asked the players to use their energy better and that’s why things were different in this game.

“Uzbekistan have good balance from attack to defence and they have good individual ability as well, but our players are also good so we will prepare for that game.”

Photos: AFC