Bert van Marwijk has seen it all when it comes to the World Cup, having taken Netherlands to the final in 2010 as well as having the experience the of guiding Saudi Arabia through the AFC qualifying stage enroute to reaching Russia 2018. So Malaysia must have done well when the 67-year-old admitted he had to adjust his tactics to avoid being handed a defeat in their opening Group G match.
Ali Mabkhout saved United Arab Emirates from an embarassing defeat at the hands of Malaysia with a brace in a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Tuesday night. The Dutchman was less complimentary about the state of pitch that both teams had to play but conceded Tan Cheng Hoe forced him to tweak his team.
A storming start from Malaysia earned them an early lead with UAE's defence that comprised of a centre back pairing of 20-year-old Khalifa Mubarak Alhammadi and 22-year-old Mohamad Omar Alattas struggled to cope with wave after wave of Malaysian attacks.
"First of all, I want to congratulate you on a beautiful stadium. One of the most beautiful stadium I saw ever of the world. Only it's a pity you have this pitch. You cannot really play fast football, that's also for Malaysia. That's a pity but it's a beautiful stadium.
"We started really bad. Everyone can see that. After 40 seconds, 0-1. We were sleeping on the left side and also the centre. We couldn't take part in the game in the first half hour. It was very difficult to keep the ball. We were defending on the left side tactical not good. I tried to correct it during the game but with the public in this stadium, it was not easy.
"But in the end we understood it. Every time one man extra on the left side of our defending. We corrected it at the end of the first half and second half we didn't have that problem anymore. Beginning of the second half we had our best part. I saw that Malaysia was tired from the last game and the trip and that was the moment we had to score goals.
"The moment the coach of Malaysia was changing players, they get more spirit. I didn't expect that they came back in the last 10-15 minutes of the game. But we worked very hard and at the end we are very happy to win here because there won't be many countries winning here," said van Marwijk after the match.
In the end, UAE showed they were the fresher side having had a rest from match day one last Thursday with Malaysia having to travel to Indonesia and played 98 minutes of energy sapping football. van Marwijk's team grew into the game against Malaysia after their slow start and never looked back.
While UAE did not create much, they took the chances that they had and were clinical. The win puts UAE second in the group behind Thailand, who won 3-0 at Gelora Bung Karno yesterday. Malaysia are third with three points while Vietnam trailed in fourth with a single point but have only played one match thus far.
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