Malaysia vs United Arab Emirates: Another humiliation on the cards?
Avoiding another massacre
Prior to last week’s Palestine match in Jordan, the talk was centring around how the Malaysians were finally getting things in order following Dollah Salleh’s ill-fated time in charge. But that is no longer the topic of the day.
Now, it is a question of how many goals will United Arab Emirates (UAE) – a team that handed the Malaysians a 10-0 thrashing in September, the biggest defeat in their history – put past Harimau Malaya this time around. To make matters worse, the match will be played in an empty stadium.
With only games against Middle Eastern giants remaining, it is virtually certain that the struggling Tigers will finish among the bottom 12 teams in the qualifying campaign. That would make an unlikely route to the 2019 Asian Cup even longer as they would need to play a playoff round before the final qualifying round.
The Malaysians have shown more grit under caretaker coach Ong Kim Swee, but they collapsed under immense pressure and were punished for their lapses in the 6-0 defeat to Palestine.
In contrast, UAE warmed up for the tie by whipping Timor Leste 8-0 in Abu Dhabi last week and sit second in Group A, three points behind Saudi Arabia.
UAE still have their fate very much in their own hands if they want to finish top of Group A. The Emirati’s goal difference is six strikes better than the Saudis and they host the current group leaders in their final qualifying match in March.
Saudi Arabia face group strugglers Timor Leste on Tuesday before matches against Malaysia and UAE next year to complete their second round of fixtures.
The Malaysians have made five changes to the squad that lost to Palestine last week. Defenders Razman Roslan and Nazirul Naim Che Hashim – who both started the match in Jordan – are out injured. Amri Yahyah is suspended while Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Khairul Fahmi Che Mat have personal matters to attend to.
Ong has recalled Baddrol Bakhtiar, Azamuddin Akil, Safee Sali, Jasazrin Jamaluddin and Farhan Abu Bakar into the squad.
Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) first choice left-back Fazly Mazlan is expected to replace Nazirul, while Sarawak centre-back Ronny Harun could fill Razman’s void.
Ong is also expected to reinstate Baddrol and Azamuddin to the starting line-up after his makeshift midfield failed to impress last time out.
Player to watch: Ahmed Khalil
The 24-year-old Al-Ahli forward is coming to life in the World Cup qualifiers, thanks largely to incapable Southeast Asian defenders in the group.
Eight of his nine goals to date – which make him the competition’s top scorer – have come against Timor Leste and Malaysia. When UAE handed Malaysia that 10-0 drubbing in September, Ahmed helped himself to four goals. Last week, he scored another four against Timor Leste.
With age on his side, Ahmed could become a household name in UAE after showing great promising in his younger days. He won the 2006 Under-17 Gulf Cup of Nations, the 2008 AFC Under-18 Championship and the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations.
Individually he has picked up a host of accolades, including the Asian young player of the year award in 2008 and the AFC Under-19 Championships’ player of the tournament that same year.
Also read: Malaysia's learning curve must be stopped
Facts and figures
- The Malaysians have leaked 26 goals and scored just two – from Safee Sali and Amri Yahyah – in this campaign.
- In contrast, UAE are among the highest scoring teams in the competition with 20 goals from five games. Only Qatar (24) and China (21) have scored more. UAE’s goal has only been breached twice.
- These teams have met 12 times since Malaysia first defeated UAE 2-0 in 1980. Malaysia recorded another victory in 1982 and a draw three years later, but the eight other encounters all ended in a loss for Harimau Malaya.
Malaysia 0 UAE 5: The visitors have so much firepower in their ranks that the match against Palestine could be considered just a warm-up for Malaysia. Home ground advantage might help the hosts hold out a little longer, but the absence of fans due to the crowd trouble in the Saudi Arabia game will likely negate some of that assistance.
Photo: Football Association of Malaysia