BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Despite head coach Bojan Hodak's own admission that his Malaysia U18 charges lack the tactical experience before the start of the 2017 AFF U-18 Youth Championship, the Young Tigers have defied expectations to perform well in the tournament.
On Tuesday they drew 1-1 against favourites Thailand U18 to end the group stage as Group A champions, on the back of four consecutive wins and one draw. On Friday they will play in the semi-finals, against the yet-to-be-determined Group B runners up.
When contacted by Goal, Hodak's assistant head coach Hairuddin Omar revealed several reasons behind the team's good current form.
According to him, integral to their success is the winning mentality instilled by Hodak, and the coaching staff's scouting work ahead of their every match.
"Bojan earlier spoke about the boys' lack of tactical knowledge as well as the short time had to prepare for the tournament, and he meant it.
"But he made up for it by instilling a winning mentality in the team, to spark that desire to win among the boys.
"And we the coaching staff also made sure we do our homework. Before each match we would attend the match involving our coming opponents, note down their weaknesses and focus on them in the match," revealed the former Malaysia international, adding that the coaching staff will be observing the Myanmar vs Vietnam Group B match on Wednesday.
But he also admitted to having been surprised by the boys' performance and the grit they have shown in the tournament.
"Honestly, I'm surprised at how well they have been able to follow Bojan's instructions in the matches, in light of the insufficient preparation time.
"They've shown the character needed to win matches. A lot of players are good technically, but they lack the desire to win matches.
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"But not these boys. I can say that despite what everyone has been saying, I can't pinpoint the squad key players yet, simply because how good almost all of them are. All 23 have a shot at being picked for matches.
"And the string of wins have further improved boosted their confidence, and they now have the belief they can make it to the final," he explained.