Ugly scenes as Malaysia match is abandoned

Malaysian football has suffered another black eye, this time originating from off the pitch after crowd trouble forced the home side’s World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia at Kuala Lumpur’s Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday night to be abandoned.

Just five days after the humiliating 10-0 defeat to the United Arab Emirates that led to Dollah Salleh’s resignation, the Malaysian outfit was proving far more combative under new coach Ong Kim Swee, trailing 2-1 with three minutes remaining.

That was when the trouble started, with flares and smoke bombs sent raining down onto the pitch and the surrounding areas in an apparent protest from the home supporter group Ultras Malaya.

The players took a brief break by the side of the pitch before taking cover in the dressing rooms and a short time later, the match was officially abandoned.

It is yet another disappointing moment in Malaysia’s recent footballing history and came on a night when Harimau Malaya had finally shown the determination, desire and commitment to the cause that had been so lacking in recent performances.

Malaysia’s under-23 coach Ong, appointed on an interim basis, was seeking to restore the public’s faith in the national team. Having made some tough decisions with regards to the squad, he then set about auditioning for the role proper.

He set his team up first and foremost not to concede. Junior Eldstal became the designated screen between two lines of four, leaving Amri Yahyah in a lone role up front. Nazirul Naim and Matthew Davies were afforded their starting debuts, while Fadhli Shas was restored to the first 11.

Keeping their shape was the name of the game as Malaysia set out to frustrate the West Asian powers. The Malayan Tigers defended deep and allowed the likes of Salman Al Farah, Abdulmalek Al Khairi and Taseer Al Jassam to control the midfield.

Zero shots on target for the Saudis in the entire first half told the story as Bert Van Marwijk’s team struggled to offer Khairul Fahmi the same vigorous work-out he had endured in Abu Dhabi.

On the occasions that Malaysia did secure possession, it was typically relinquished almost immediately, with Safiq Rahim in particular culpable of a few rushed passes.

In the early stages of the second half it looked like the match was heading the same way, with the Saudis dominant in possession and Malaysia remaining resilient. But then just like a switch being flicked, the match came to life.

Firstly substitute Fakri Saraani’s header found Amri and the Johor Darul Ta’zim man picked out Wan Zack Haikal with a wonderful cross. The latter had the vision to cut back for Safiq to side foot home the opening goal on 70 minutes.

The delirium from the home crowd was cut short just three minutes later, however, when the Green Falcons equalised. After some poor defending, Yahia Al Shahri’s cross fell kindly into the path of the on-rushing Al Jassam who slammed the ball home.

Malaysia then suffered further heartbreak in the 76th minute when the Saudis took the lead from the first piece of sloppy defending from the home side. Razman Roslan failed to pick up the run of Mohammed Al Sahlawi, whose looping header left Khairul Fahmi no chance.

While the game was heading to a climactic end, the fans decided to intervene with a dramatic finish of their own. Flares were lit and thrown onto the pitch and there were even fireworks that flew dangerously close to the players’ bench.

It’s clearly not the kind of action that Ong was hoping for to commence his second stint in charge of his national side. But there were at least some positive signs on the pitch that he could indeed be the right man for the job.

FIFA currently has the match officially listed as ‘abandoned’ and it remains to be seen what, if any, further action might be taken.