Harimau making good strides

KUALA LUMPUR: Coach Kim Pan Gon looked like a sculptor who is happy with what he saw; Harimau Malaya taking shape after his two years of moulding.

And the Korean believes that Malaysia have what it takes to mount a strong campaign in the Asian Cup starting on Friday in Doha, Qatar.

Pan Gon was pleased with his men's performance today — world No. 130 Malaysia holding higher-ranked world No. 91 Syria to a 2-2 draw in a closed door friendly yesterday at the Grand Hamad stadium in Doha.

This is a boost to the Malaysians' confidence as they prepare to face two Arab teams — Jordan and Bahrain — who are of similar strength in their group in the Asian Cup.

Against Syria, Malaysia took the lead through Arif Aiman Hanapi (39th minute) but the Qasioun Eagles hit back with goals from Pablo Sabbag (70th) and Ibrahim Hesar (74th).

Brazilian-born midfielder Paulo Josue ensured Malaysia would troop off the field on level terms with Syria by netting the equaliser in the 78th minute.

It was the second time Syria were held to a deadlock by the Malaysians.

Previously, the Arab side, coached by La Liga legend Hector Cuper, were held 2-2 by Pan Gon's men in a friendly in Chengdu, China, last September.

Pan Gon said the result and performance against Syria augur well for their Asian Cup Group E opener against Jordan at the Al Janoub Stadium on Jan 15.

"It was a good start, we can compete with the world No. 91 and I'm happy with the performance.

"We can compete in the first Asian Cup game," said South Korean Pan Gon, indicating his satisfaction with his team's state of readiness.

"We haven't had an official game since December and we have only been training.

"It's good that our programme is going well. Today we gained confidence, and it's a good way to start here."

Pan Gon said he is glad that his squad are injury-free after the friendly against Syria.

"We have a week more to go, so we need to focus on recovery and prepare the tactics for the first game. We will have enough time and there are no injuries so it's good," he said.

"Every single player is happy here, anyone can be in the starting 11.

"In the next few days our coaching staff will assess the players to decide on the starting 1I for the first match."

After the Jordan match, Malaysia will take on No. 86 Bahrain on Jan 20 and No. 23 South Korea on Jan 25.

Only the champions and runners-up of each group, along with the four best third-placed teams, will qualify for the last 16.

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