Tan credits Coach Ong and JDT stars for AFC U-23 Championship feat

Kelvin Leong Kelvin Leong

Dominic Tan credits his Johor Darul Ta’zim teammates and Coach Ong Kim Swee for his stellar performances in the AFC U-23 Championship

While the attacking likes of Safawi Rasid and Danial Amier have hogged the limelight in Malaysia’s fairy tale run at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship in which they made it to the quarter-finals, it was the defenders who kept the opponents at bay, led by the impressive form of Dominic Tan.

The 20-year-old centre-back who plies his trade with Malaysian Super League giants Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) – but is now on a year-long loan with Portuguese club Vilaverdensen FC – came of age in this tournament with some resilient defensive work that earned praises from the Malaysian media.

Malaysia started the tournament on a poor note with a 4-1 trouncing by Iraq before bouncing back to earn a credible 1-1 draw against Jordan. They went on to achieve the unthinkable by striking a 1-0 victory over Asian giants Saudi Arabia in their final Group C game to achieve their pre-tournament target of a top eight spot.

“Coach Ong and the players had a target to qualify for the AFC U-23 quarter-finals and be among the top eight nations in Asia and it’s safe to say we achieved it,” Tan told Fox Sports Asia.

“Even after the Iraq loss, I didn’t feel like we were going the wrong way because three of the goals we conceded were our own mistakes and the score line didn’t reflect the way we played.

“We spoke as a team at half-time and came out to play some good football and took that form into the Jordan and Saudi Arabia games to bounce back and qualify for the final eight.”

Despite their superb tournament coming to an end against Korea Republic, Tan reckoned the young Malaysian team proved their worth, and he was quick to credit Coach Ong and his club teammates for it.

He added: “Coach Ong never stopped believing in us and repeatedly reminded us that the gap between us and countries like Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic was not that far and it gave us the confidence to show our stuff on the pitch.

“On a personal note, the experience I gained while training and playing for Johor has really helped me grow a lot. To learn from players like Aidil [Zafuan], Marcos [Antonio] and Fadhli Shas made me improve so much and that has translated to my performances in this tournament.”

Tan’s solid start to 2018 continued to soar when JDT announced on Thursday that the youngster and his teammate Syamer Kutty Abba are on a year-long loan to Vilaverdensen FC, who play in Portugal’s third division.

The two youngsters arrived in Portugal over the weekend and Tan is grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue honing his craft in Europe.

“Playing abroad has always been my dream and thanks to JDT and Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, I now have that golden opportunity. I’ll go there and continue to get better and hopefully come back and give my all at JDT, the best club in Malaysia,” Tan declared.