Dion Cools glad to banish Kallang nightmare as Malaysia make better memories under Kim Pan-gon

Dion Cools was named man of the match in Malaysia's 2-0 win over Philippines in the FAS Tri-Nations Series 2022 opener, as Harimau Malaya began life under new coach Kim Pan-gon with an impressive performance. Football Association of Malaysia

Ahead of the opening match of the FAS Tri-Nations Series 2022, Malaysia's Dion Cools might have been forgiven for only associating Singapore's National Stadium in Kallang with a nightmarish experience.

After all, the last time Malaysia played at the venue -- just three months earlier -- they had their quest to reach the semifinals of AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 end in disastrous fashion, as a heavy 4-1 loss to bitter rivals Indonesia sealed a group-stage exit.

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On Wednesday evening, in their first game since their Suzuki Cup failure -- which ultimately led to the resignation of then coach Tan Cheng Hoe -- a new era for Malaysian football began on a positive note as Harimau Malaya beat Philippines 2-0 to make a winning start under Kim Pan-gon.

At the same venue, no less.

Akhyar Rashid's clinical first-half double set the Malaysians on their way to victory but there were positive displays all over the park including that of Cools, who was named man of the match after an enterprising shift from right-back.

"Last time I was here, I was so disappointed -- and really mad at the same time," Cools told ESPN.

"Those were some bad memories but we managed to change it to good memories today, eh?

"I think it was collectively a wonderful performance. I think we destroyed them (Philippines) and it could have been more than 2-0, so that's positive and I hope the boys keep it up.

"For the first game (under Kim), it's a good step in the right direction and I hope we can build from this, get some momentum and try to perfect the things the coach wants to do."

Born in Malaysia where his mother is from but having grown up in Belgium, his father's country of birth, Cools represented the European nation up to under-21 level and previously featured prominently for Belgian giants Club Brugge -- on the domestic front and even in the UEFA Champions League.

Given his credentials, there was plenty of excitement in Malaysian football when it became apparent that Cools was open to featuring for Harimau Malaya at senior international level, and he is hoping he can help the team overcome recent disappointments and reach loftier heights under Kim.

"It's not always easy (travelling from Europe to play for Malaysia) to be honest. This time, I came to Singapore just two days ago and you need to adapt to both the time (difference) and the heat," explained the 25-year-old, who currently plays for Zulte Waregem on loan from Danish outfit Midtjylland.

"I was happy I could perform well. It was nice to see everybody was performing at a high level and, if we can lift each other to a different level, that's even better.

"For me as well with my experience to help my teammates, if they are willing to listen we can create some nice things together.

"Of course, it takes some time for the players to understand what a new coach wants. You can see the players are trying to do what he wants.

"We saw a totally different way of constructing our chances, of pressing compared to before, and it worked in our favour."