BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia finally found the first win in their Oceania tour, defeating New Caledonia 2-1 at the Stade Numa Daly, Noumea, in a come-from-behind win.
Following their shocking 2-0 defeat to Papua New Guinea last week, head coach Ong Kim Swee has chosen to abandon his objective of trying out the whole of his squad in the tour, and picked his best eleven against New Caledonia.
Defenders S. Kunanlan, Aidil Zafuan and Fazly Mazlan returned to the starting lineup, as did Amirulhadi Zainal and Hazwan Bakri.
However it was the home side which opened the scoring, when Jean-Philippe Saïko found the back of the net in the 20th minute. The 39th minute substitution of Christie Jayaseelan who came on for Zaquan Adha Abd Radzak did not change the game, and the first half ended with a 1-0 scoreline.
But when the match resumed in the second half, the visitors needed only three minutes to finally find the equaliser, through Amirulhadi's goal. Just six minutes later, Baddrol Bakhtiar gave the Malayan Tigers the lead, through a freekick goal.
Azrif Nasrulhaq's second booking and subsequent sending off in the 82nd minute gave the visitors a scare for a while, but five minutes later New Caledonia too had to play with ten men when Georges Bearune was shown a second yellow. The 2-1 scoreline stood until the final whistle.
The win will perhaps give Ong some breathing space to undertake his tour objective, as he has been criticised by the media and fans recently for Malaysia's defeat against the lower-ranked Papua New Guinea.
Regardless of whether the fans and media's demand for the team to win in Oceania tour is appropriate or not, it must be noted that Ong's appointment, made at the end of 2015, also included the objective of improving Malaysia's declining FIFA ranking position, which is achieved by winning international matches.