Harimau Muda squad far from the finished product

As his team punted long balls into the box during the first half, Malaysia Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee could only shake his head on the sidelines.

His team opened their Merdeka Tournament campaign with a 1-0 victory over Causeway rivals Singapore in Kuantan on Saturday.

But the first 45 minutes of the affair were hampered by a water-logged pitch at the Stadium Darul Makmur.

"I can't blame my players for playing like that in the first half; the pitch was unplayable and we just had to adapt," Ong said.

"In the second half, when the pitch was better, we started to play our normal game - especially in the final 20 minutes when we moved the ball well and tried shots."

A slender victory over a second-string Singapore Under- 23 team was hardly an indication of how big a threat Malaysia will be at December's SEA (South-east Asia) Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

Malaysia are the two-time defending champions of the beinnial Games, and Ong says his men have yet to peaked.

The starting line-up on Saturday included just four of the Harimau Muda squad who have been training and playing together for the past few years.

Wan Zack Haikal, who plays in Japan with third-tier club FC Ryukyu, and Sarawak's Junior Eldstal, are two of 10 players who have joined the squad only this month.

"We can be better than what we showed against Singapore, and we will be," vowed Ong.

"We want to win this tournament, and there are still three matches left for the boys to improve."

Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy said he was impressed by a number of Malaysian players yesterday - in particular, Wan Zack, who gave Young Lions left back Hafiz Abu Sujad a tough time on the flank.

"Wan Zack is a very exciting player. He and their striker (Thamil) are the two main players," Sundram said.

"They also have the tall No. 15 (Junior Eldstal), who is really effective on both ends of the pitch."

Get The New Paper for more stories.