AFF Suzuki Cup analysis: Malaysia 0 Myanmar 0
Six games – that’s how long it took for Malaysia to earn their first clean sheet under Dollah Salleh’s charge. The national team opened their 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Myanmar, oddly enough the highest-ranked side (well, according to FIFA) in Group B despite being the only nation in it never to lift the ASEAN trophy. But don’t let the scoreline fool you; there was plenty of action at both ends.
Malaysia's stubborn defence
Myanmar peppered Malaysia’s goal with 16 attempts, but found Khairul Fahmi Che Mat in exceptional form, with the Kelantan stopper saving all six shots on target he faced – the most saves made by a goalkeeper in this tournament after the first round of matches.
Dollah was faced with an eleventh-hour selection headache, as Muslim Ahmad was initially cleared to play despite being sent off in the recent friendly against Syria, but his suspension was reinstated on the matchday itself. Dollah had initially planned on a Muslim-Afif Amiruddin centre-back partnership, but was forced to utilise Fadhli Shas, who performed admirably. The JDT defender made the most clearances amongst the Malaysians (eight) and crowned his performance with an excellent intercepting tackle on Kyaw Ko Ko in the 39th minute. On the opposite end, he even set up Amri Yahyah for a shooting opportunity in the 17th minute, which was dragged wide.
Fadhli's partner at the back, Afif, provided a height advantage at both ends, notably heading clear two dangerous crosses from Kyi Lin (20th minute) and substitute Kyaw Zayar Win (85th minute). Like Fadhli, Afif also threatened Myanmar’s goal, heading over the bar from close range after meeting a corner by Mahali Jasuli.
Often maligned for his defensive lapses, Mahali was arguably Malaysia’s best outfield player. To no surprise at all, his average position was along the half-way line, and he managed to juggle between keeping Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit on Myanmar’s left flank quiet and his attacking duties. His individual highlights included a blazing run past three defenders in the 84th minute, ending in his cross-cum-shot heading towards the top corner before it was caught by Thina Si Thu.
The JDT right-back was also a threat from set pieces, which was often the source of Malaysia’s best goalscoring chances. Mahali’s sweetly-struck curling free-kick in first half added time was saved on the line by Si Thu; while his aforementioned corner was failed to be converted by Afif. Another of his free-kicks was met by Shukor Adan, flicking a header that appeared to hit the arm of Khin Maung Lwin in the box, but no penalty was given.
The match's turning points
The obvious flashpoint of this draw would be Gary Steven Robbat’s red card. Booked in the 13th minute for a late lunging tackle on Yan Aung Kyaw, the youngster let his emotion got the better of him 22 minutes later, clumsily-tackling Kyi Lin to get his second yellow card.
It was a shame, as Gary did quite well prior to his sending off. Charging forward to bring the ball out of defence, it was from his run and through-ball in the fifth minute that Amri scored but was adjudged to be offside. He was also fouled three times in his 35 minutes on the pitch (David Htan earned a booking for one), a hint that Myanmar’s players were not comfortable dealing with his surges from midfield.
Interestingly, Gary’s red card was the impetus for Malaysia to improve their performance, while Myanmar dropped theirs. Myanmar coach Radojko Avramovic said as much after the match, admitting that “We stopped concentrating after Robbat was sent off.”
Raddy’s cause was not helped by his decision to switch Kyi Lin and Nanda Lin’s positions for the second half. Kyi, probably the best player in the first half with his trickery and explosive runs down the right flank, was combining well with Htan, a midfielder playing at right-back. Left-sided Zubir Azmi and S. Kunanlan performed the most tackles amongst the Malaysians (four and five respectively), indicating just how hard they were trying to stop the Kyi-Htan combination. As such, it was puzzling to see Kyi Lin emerge from the break on the other flank. Mahali handled him well enough, and his influence was drastically reduced from then on.
Myanmar also seemingly tried to attack through the middle, instead of on the flanks that served them so well in the first period. It was telling that Malaysia had three attacking chances before Myanmar’s first opportunity of the second half arrived in the 67th minute, but Khairul Fahmi was equal to Min Min Thu’s long-range shot. The goalie performed a fine double-save with five minutes to go to preserve an under-pressure Malaysia’s point, and earn Dollah Salleh a first clean sheet.
One point is better than none, but this match represented Malaysia’s best chance to get a win, considering that the remaining games are against tournament favourites Thailand and co-hosts Singapore. That being said, with a dogged performance such as this, if Malaysia manage to actually finish a game with all their players on the pitch, they might just stand a chance.
(Pictures: Khairil Ajhar Jaafar/asiana.my)