The FourFourTwo Preview: Oman vs Malaysia

Friendly | Al-Seeb Stadium| Thu 26 Mar | 10:30pm (local time)

Oman Form

  • Oman 1-0 Kuwait (Asian Cup)
  • Oman 0-4 Australia (Asian Cup)
  • South Korea 1-0 Oman (Asian Cup)
  • China 4-1 Oman (Friendly)
  • Qatar 2-2 Oman (Gulf Cup)

Malaysia Form

  • Malaysia 3-2 Thailand (Suzuki Cup)
  • Thailand 2-0 Malaysia (Suzuki Cup)
  • Vietnam 2-4 Malaysia (Suzuki Cup)
  • Malaysia 1-2 Vietnam (Suzuki Cup)
  • Singapore 1-3 Malaysia (Suzuki Cup)

Billed as

Harimau Malaya versus Al-Habsi & Friends.

The lowdown

The above joke is not far from reality, as not many Malaysians will claim to be familiar with the players of the Oman national team except for goalkeeper and captain Ali Al-Habsi, who has played for Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic in the Premier League. Plus, both nations have not played each other after the Harimau Malaya lost 3-0 in Qatar in September 2010.

Just to keep you updated, since their last encounter, the Omanis reached the fourth round in the AFC's 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification (Malaysia only made it to the second round, by the way), finished fourth in the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations (a tournament equivalent of the AFF Suzuki Cup), and played in the 2015 Asian Cup, where they crashed out in the group stages. On the other hand, Malaysia’s most notable achievements revolved around the AFF Suzuki Cup – winning it in 2010, failing to defend the title in 2012, and finishing runners-up in 2014.

Not that any of those things matter in this friendly match, as both teams will be testing out their respective squads ahead of the upcoming 2015 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Oman coach Paul Le Guen, who most memorably won three straight Ligue 1 titles with Olympique Lyonnais from 2002 to 2005, has opted to freshen things up a bit by calling up a few new faces to the squad. However, despite leaving out striker Amad Al-Hosni and all-time leading goal-scorer Hani Al-Dhabit, they still pack some quality players, such as their sole goal-scorer in the 2015 Asian Cup, Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali.

Similarly, in his first match since the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, Dollah Salleh has also made notable changes, dropping regular starters Khairul Fahmi Che Mat and Safee Sali, among others, and calling up a few unproven players on the international scene. The squad is a rather attacking and unbalanced one too, with the Harimau Malaya head coach selecting six natural forwards and three natural wingers. Defensive-wise, only five players are natural defenders and uncapped Akram Mahinan is the only defensive midfielder in the team.

On top of that, based on his tactics during the Asian Cup, Le Guen adopts an attacking approach when playing against equal or lesser opponents and plays defensively when facing stronger opponents. With Malaysia being closer to the former category than the latter, goals should be aplenty and we could be in for an entertaining end-to-end match.

Key battle: Hassan Mudhafar Al-Gheilani vs Wan Zack Haikal

Despite having just returned from his long-term lay-off due to an ACL injury, Wan Zack Haikal has performed well for Kelantan to warrant an international call-up, replacing the injured S. Chanturu. The former Harimau Muda star could be in for a starting berth on the right wing to face Oman left-back Hassan Mudhafar, who has more international caps for his country than anyone in the current squad and often does his part in helping the team to attack. Although Wan Zack’s fitness level might not be up to par yet, the direct battle between the duo could very well decide the outcome of this friendly match.

Facts and figures

  • Oman have only won six out of their last 20 matches.
  • Excluding competitive games taking place in neutral venues and exhibition/unofficial matches, Malaysia have only won four out of their last 25 away matches since that defeat to Oman in 2010 – three of them came in 2014.
  • Malaysia also lost 3-1 to Oman in the 2006 Asian Games.

FourFourTwo predictions

The heart says Malaysia, but the head says Oman due to their home advantage. 3-2 Al-Habsi & Friends.

(Pictures: asiana.my)

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