What Malaysia need to do to beat Vietnam

Vietnam will not be a walk in the park for the Harimau Malaya, as Shahrir Bahar points out...

The Malaysia national team has been criticised by their fans, following a series of poor performances and a particular controversial incident off the pitch during the ongoing 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup. A 3-1 win over Singapore in the final Group B match has, however, silenced the critics… for now.

In their upcoming two-legged semi-final clash, they will face Vietnam, a team who has already beaten them once this year. Playing the first leg in front of their supporters at the Shah Alam Stadium, Dollah Salleh and his men must take note of the following if they want to go to Vietnam with an advantage.

1. Minimise mistakes

In a battle between two teams playing the 4-4-2 formation, everything is evened out. There is no numerical advantage in the middle of the park, full-backs have the most space to exploit, and centre-backs will be up against two strikers. So, the team that makes the least mistakes will win this game. 

Both teams are well known for their lapses of concentration that often cost their game dearly – Vietnam showed that they are prone to make defensive mistakes when they drew 2-2 against Indonesia in their opening group match, while Malaysia squandered two one-goal leads to lose 3-2 to Thailand.

However, if players’ age and experience are anything to go by, Malaysia may have a slight edge to avoid making costly mistakes. 

2. Stop Vietnam’s threat on the flanks

The Vietnamese love attacking down their flanks. With tricky wingers of Vu Minh Tuan and Pham Thanh Luong's qualities and fast overlapping runs from their full-backs, Mahali Jasuli and Zubir Azmi will need extra protection from their wingers to avoid two-on-one situations in their areas.

3. Put more crosses into Vietnam's penalty box

Vietnam's No. 3 (Le Phuoc Tu) and No. 4 (Dinh Tien Thanh) have been struggling with crosses lately. Two of the three goals they conceded in group matches were caused by their inability to deal with crosses from their left flank. Azamuddin Akil will need to capitalise on this weakness to put in good crosses and provide goal-scoring chances for Safee Sali and/or Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.

4. Stop Ngo Hoang Thinh

It will be a bit naive for Dollah’s men to think dealing with Vietnam is all about stopping their No. 9 (Le Cong Vinh) and No. 10 (Nguyen van Quyet). While both of them are unquestionably dangerous, Vietnam's attacking threat will not be possible without the services of their No. 7, Ngo Hoang Thinh, whose presence ensures their lightning fast transition from defence to attack.

In the match against the Philippines, he just needed a quick deft touch to switch the attacking orientation from the middle of the park to the right flank, which caught the Azkals’ defence off guard and created Vietnam’s second goal. Gary Steven Robbat and Safiq Rahim will need to give him as little space as possible to work on.

5. Replace Amri Yahyah adequately

Amri has been indispensable to Malaysia due to his great offensive attributes. With him serving suspension after collecting two yellow cards, Dollah is facing an uphill task to replace a player of his quality.

If you watched Malaysia’s 3-1 defeat to Vietnam a few weeks ago, you would know how handful Amri Yahyah was in the first half. If it was not for Malaysia's wasteful finishing, the Harimau Malaya could’ve been ahead by three goals, at least. Following Muslim Ahmad’s dismissal, Amri’s contributions were subdued by the numerical advantage Vietnam had.

As it stands, S. Kunanlan looks odds-on to replace Amri because he can offer defensive protection with his high work rate and stamina. However, he lacks Amri's flamboyancy and flair, so he needs to convince Dollah that he has more to offer in the attacking department.

(Photos: asiana.my, Getty Images)