KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the 1-2 loss to English Premier League outfit, Arsenal FC in a friendly match at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil here last night, national football coach Datuk K. Rajagobal was nevertheless pleased with his boys' performance.
Malaysia netted the match's first goal through defender Mohd Azmi Muslim, who brilliantly unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 metres into the top corner in the 46th minute to the delight of the spectators.
The English side replied with two goals through Thomas Eisfeld in the 87th minute and Chuks Aneke three minutes later, after Gunners manager Arsene Wenger revamped his entire squad in the second half.
"We should have won the match or at least gotten a draw. However, considering this is the fasting month of Ramadan, I'm very happy with my boys' performance," he told reporters after the match, last night.
On another match against English team Manchester City which is scheduled to be held at the same venue next Monday, Rajagobal said he would be assessing the other players who were still available before deciding on the final list to play against the EPL champions.
"I have looked at their (Manchester City) games on television and they are very strong. It's not going to be easy for us, so I will be more cautious when choosing players to play this tough match," he said.
Rajagobal also praised Kelantan's midfielder Mohd Shakir Shaari who had orchestrated most of the dangerous passes during the match.
"He played his role as midfielder very well beside Gary Steven Robbat...although he (Mohd Shakir) is still young. I think he has a bright future in football," he said.
Sharing similar sentiments with Rajagobal on the improvement showed by the Malaysian squad, Wenger admitted that he had to revamp his team in the second half to put up with the strong challenge from the hosts.
"My friend (Rajagobal) does a good job here because every year they play faster, quicker and stronger. We had to be patient to win the game but the result was less important than the workout.
"I also could see players such as Mohd Safee Sali and S. Kunanlan having good dribbling skills while the goalkeeper (Mohd Farizal Marlias) was fantastic," he said.
The 61-year-old Frenchman said he had to improve his players' fitness, besides their technical skills before they could compete in the 2012/13 EPL season which would kick off next month.
"Our team is still lacking in terms of physical fitness as well as tactically and technically, so we have some work to do before the EPL season starts," he said.
The Gunners will wrap up their Asian Tour with a match against Kitchee FC of Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Stadium, this Sunday. -- BERNAMA