KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 – Malaysia’s thumping 4-0 win over Laos in a Group B match at the AFF Suzuki Cup at the Bishan Stadium, Singapore on Thursday with an ill-prepared team is a “tonic” of relief for Harimau Malaya – especially head coach Tan Cheng Hoe.
The win kept Malaysia’s unbeaten record after two matches. The former international, however, was lost in his emotions, knowing that it has been a rocky path for his team arriving in the Lion City on Dec 5.
Despite the two wins in their opening two matches – (3-1 over Cambodia on Dec 6) followed by the 4-0 win over Laos, Cheng Hoe is well aware that he has to make do with a dwindled squad – after some players were tested positive for Covid-19.
Khairul Azhan Khalid (goalkeeper) and Faisal Halim (flanker) were the first to fall victim to the virus and have yet to be released from their 10-day quarantine since arriving.
There was more to come before the match against Laos when Quentin Cheng and Akhyar Rashid were also tested positive and still under quarantine.
A testing time for Cheng Hoe and his coaching staff. Match strategies have come under close scrutiny for Cheng Hoe and company.
So far so good but the real test for Cheng Hoe will come when the Malaysians play Vietnam this Sunday and Indonesia on Dec 19 to complete their round robin group preliminaries.
When asked if he had a good sleep after the big win over Laos or had a sleepless night with Covid-19 taking its toll on the team, Cheng Hoe had this to say:
“It was a combination of both, frankly.” said Cheng Hoe from Singapore adding that what comes next is a great challenge. “The nagging thought of the virus affecting your players is very disturbing.”
Obviously, Cheng Hoe is referring to Malaysia’s “COVID -19” situation that has crippled the team in Singapore. However, the show must go for Cheng Hoe and Harimau Malaya.
For now he has a prayer in his heart and keeping his fingers crossed that there won’t be anymore victims of the virus and at the same time hoping that the team will not be hit by injuries in the Asean Championships.
“I  hope the players will keep their composure and remain motivated. They (the players) have displayed a  high level of commitment despite the odds…the unity is second to none and they are steadfast in loyalty.”
Malaysia finished runners-up at the last edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup, losing 3-2 on aggregate. The first-leg in Kuala Lumpur ended in a 2-2 draw and Vietnam clinched the title with a 1-0 win in the return-leg in Hanoi.
The Harimau Malaya won the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2010 – the year Safee Sali also clinched the Golden Boot with five goals as the top scorer in the tournament.
“The wins (against Cambodia and Laos) has boosted the confidence of the players. Let us count on this and ride on the momentum in the remaining two matches in the group,” added Cheng Hoe.

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