While the Malaysian media were congratulating K. Rajagobal after his boys defeated hosts Laos to go into the football final of the 25th SEA Games, the coach's frowned expression suggested that he was thinking hard.
Perhaps he was thinking of ways to fire up the spirits of his squad who will meet Vietnam in the final on Thursday. Vietnam had beaten Malaysia 3-1 in the second match in Group A on Dec 6.
"Maybe I shouldn't be talking too much and let the players think for themselves how to boost their own spirits and win the final," he said after the Malaysia-Laos semi-final match at the Main Stadium, National Sports Complex, here, Monday night.
Vietnam were top in Group A and Malaysia the runners-up.
In another semi-final match at the Chaou Anouvong Stadium, here, Vietnam trounced Group B runners-up Singapore 4-1.
The Malaysian Under-23 squad, not expected to go into the final, beat the hosts 3-1, giving them a chance to win gold since Malaysia last did at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 1989.
On Monday's match, Rajagobal said after Baddrol Bakhtiar scored the first goal in the 13th minute, there was a lapse of concentration and his boys allowed their opponents to control play.
But they got a wake-up call when Laos equalised in the 72nd minute through Kanlaya Sysomvang and then started to play more attacking football.
Rajagobal said not many people realised how difficult it was for the Malaysian squad playing against Laos as they were without their regular strikers.
"Mohamad Zaquan Abdul Radzak is still injured while Ahmad Fakri Saarani and Mohd Amirulhadi Zainal are suspended.
"I only had a midfielder of calibre, Safiq Rahim, and he proved his capability," said a relieved Rajagobal.
While controlling the midfield, Safiq also gave Malaysia's third goal in the match. Baddrol had earlier scored the second goal in the 79th minute.
Laos coach Alfred Riedl said Malaysia controlled the first-half and his charges the second.
"But lady luck was not on our side as Malaysia managed to find our net twice in the second-half," said the Austrian coach.
In their last meeting at the Jakarta SEA Games in 1997, Laos beat Malaysia 1-0.-Bernama