BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Hosts Malaysia are out of the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship, after losing to Japan in their final Group A match on Thursday.
The East Asian side scored in each half of the match, thanks to Shoji Toyama’s 37th minute goal and Hikaro Naruoka’s striker in injury time.
The match got on to end-to-end proceedings in the early minutes with both teams needing a win in order to progress to the quarter-final stage.
Both teams looked dangerous on the attack, but the Young Tigers failed to convert the chances they had.
And under the hot afternoon sun, the hosts soon paid for the risk of playing a high-intensity game early on, losing their energy and looking out of ideas by the half hour mark.
Perhaps due to the fatigue, one of their most glaring weaknesses, the penchant for committing defensive mistakes again reared its ugly head, resulting in the leading goal by the Japanese in the 37th minute.
A harmless knocked-on ball into the Malaysia penalty box was intentionally left by midfielders Umar Hakeem Suhar Redzuan and Syukur Fariz, perhaps for the defenders to contend with, but it was instead won by forward Shoji Toyama, who slammed the ball past goalkeeper Sikh Izhan Nazrel, with the custodian barely having enough time to register the sudden danger.
Just two minutes later they almost conceded the second goal, again from a defensive mistake, but this time Izhan was more alert in dealing with the self-inflicted danger.
In the second half head coach Lim Teong Kim retained the players, and they again started brightly, like they did in the first half.
Nothing came off the positive play though, and despite Najmudin Akmal putting the ball in the back of the net, the goal was rightly disallowed by the referee, as the forward had barged into goalkeeper Taiki Yamada.
Najmudin would be taken off later in a double substitution, alongside midfielder Syukur Fariz. On came Amirul Ruzki and Raimi Shamsul.
But they would soon be bereft of ideas again, and just like in the first half, Japan took the opportunity to push on for their second goal.
They did so deep in injury time, a thunderous shot by Hikaro Naruoka which slammed into the crossbar before ricocheting off of Izhan’s back.
At the final whistle, Malaysia were the 2-0 losers, and they finished bottom of the group. Ironically, Tajikistan, the same opponents the hosts thumped 6-2 in the opening match, won the other encounter of the day, 2-1 against Thailand, and followed Japan.
Questions will now be asked of the future of the National Football Development Programme, whose trainees comprised all of Malaysia squad members in the tournament, and its project director Lim. Millions of Ringgit had been poured into the programme for the purpose of training young Malaysian footballers early, and also into getting Malaysia in the U-17 World Cup.
Malaysia vs Japan match highlights
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