Tajikistan loss a huge blow but Harimau Malaya regroup for World Cup qualifiers

KUALA LUMPUR: Harimau Malaya captain Dion Cools admitted that the 2-0 defeat by Tajikistan in the final of the 2023 Merdeka Tournament last night has cast a cloud of negativity among the players, resulting in a sombre mood in the dressing room.

However, he said the players should not continue to feel disappointed but instead learn from the match to improve their weaknesses as they prepare for the 2026 World Cup/2027 Asian Cup second qualifying round.

“It’s a team performance, we lose together, we win together. I think everybody has a negative feeling now… we should not be negative and there are a lot of positive things. I think we dominated the game against a higher-ranked team.

“The most important thing is the November World Cup Qualifiers, so we need to be ready,” he told reporters after the match.

Defender Matthew Davies was just as disappointed, especially when he had a good chance to score but failed to direct his header past the Tajikistan goalkeeper just seconds before the end of the first half.

Davies, however, said yesterday’s defeat will lead to coach Kim Pan Gon’s squad working on improving themselves ahead of next month’s World Cup Qualifiers.

“We had chances and (showed) quality, but we were just not clinical enough. Luck was also not on our side. The result isn’t good, but we will focus on next month’s Qualifiers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stuart John Wilkin said the team should not dwell too long on the defeat and pick themselves up quickly.

“We need to pick ourselves up… I’m sure there’ll be an analysis of the game. We’ll take a look and see the areas that we did well and, of course, the areas where we can improve on. We are looking forward to the coming games,” he said.

In the 2026 World Cup/2027 Asian Cup Qualifiers, the Harimau Malaya are drawn in Group D. They will begin the campaign against Kyrgyzstan at home on Nov 16 before meeting Taiwan away on Nov 21. – Bernama