WITH nothing much to play for, except pride, the final Group E match of the 2023 Asian Cup Finals against South Korea will at least provide the Harimau Malaya players with a priceless experience, said national head coach Kim Pan Gon.

The match at the Al Janoub Stadium here will be the first time after 44 years that these two teams will go toe-to-toe in the group stage of the Asian Cup.

Pan Gon, while excited at the prospect of guiding Malaysia to take on South Korea, his country of birth and one of the giants in the Asian region, admitted that his team of coaches have done all they can to lift the pall of gloom that had descended on the national team camp after their two earlier Group E losses (4-0 to Jordan and 1-0 to Bahrain) consigned them to another early group exit.

Besides gaining invaluable experience, the match against two-time champions South Korea, nicknamed the Taeguk Warriors, would also come in handy as they gear up for a more crucial mission, namely making the third round of the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers for the first time.

“(This match against South Korea) nothing to lose for us but, depending on our performance, we may get something (positive result)... something for future preparations. So, for us, it’s very important, we have the World Cup Qualifiers in March and June.

“If we succeed in going to the final stage (of the World Cup Qualifiers), we may face these kinds of giants, South Korea, Japan and Iran... we want to use this opportunity to taste, feel and learn something, we will be ready tomorrow,” he told a pre-match press conference here today.

Elaborating, Pan Gon said that several players, including the naturalised Endrick Dos Santos, may not be fielded due to injuries.

In addition, he said the players would also have more difficulty adapting to tomorrow’s game due to the change in the start time.

“Preparation-wise it’s quite tough for us. We started the game against Jordan at 10.30 pm and tomorrow at 2.30 pm, the weather and adaptation time have been a challenge for us. Hopefully, we can handle it well. As for South Korea, we have a lot of information about them, we’ll try our best to compete (against them),” he added.

Meanwhile, national centreback Dion Cools is also excited about tomorrow’s match despite the disappointment of missing out on the round of 16.

“Sadly, we didn’t qualify for the round of 16... tomorrow’s game will be exciting for us. I think as a football player, this is the kind of game you want to play in, this is the kind of game you dream of.

“I think all of us have enough motivation tomorrow to perform well and to do our best and give it our everything. I think it’s a very nice experience as a team to gain experience, so we will do our best and let’s hope for something as well,” said the 27-year-old.

This is the second time Malaysia and South Korea will meet in the group stage of the Asian Cup after both teams drew 1-1 in the 1980 edition in Kuwait, with striker Zulkifli Hamzah netting the equaliser.

The last time these two teams met in a competitive match ended with Malaysia losing 3-0 to South Korea in the World Cup Qualifiers in 1989. –Bernama