AFF Suzuki Cup analysis: Malaysia 2 Thailand 3
Despite their best efforts at continuing their run of having a player sent off in each of their last three international matches, Malaysia kept all their men on the pitch at full-time. However, they conceded three goals to let the lead slip twice to a youthful Thai team. How did the game pan out? Read on...
The return of Safiq
Safiq Rahim almost missed the tournament after suffering a late injury scare, but returned to the starting eleven due to Gary Steven Robbat’s red card against Myanmar. It took just two minutes for him to make an impact, as his free-kick just outside the box was blocked by Tanaboon Kesarat.
With so many Johor Darul Ta’zim players in the team (six, to be exact), it was inevitable that most of Malaysia’s best chances would involve some of them. In an exciting move, Safiq and Safee combined to set up Norshahrul with a lay-off, but his touch let him down at the last moment.
Safiq would also be involved in both goals. For the first, he played a nice return ball to Amri for him to advance and strike into the bottom corner in the 29th minute; while he scored the second after some fine shimmies to get into position, curling the ball low past Kawin.
It was not a surprise to see that the 27 -year-old completed the most passes by a Malaysian (44), with a passing accuracy of 81%, and he also had the most touches (55).
Thailand’s dominant midfield
But Safiq’s performance was bested by Thailand’s trio of midfielders. Sarach Yooyen, Charyl Chappuis, and Chanathip Songkrasin were the War Elephants’ most prominent players, having the most touches and highest passes attempted in their side. They frequently managed to advance up the pitch through the middle, breaking with pace and passing past Shukor Adan, who was supposed to shield his defence. The gap ahead of Afif Amiruddin and Fadhli Shas was obvious, resulting in 14 of Thailand’s 23 shots on goal to come from outside the box.
Chanatip was also a revelation. The diminutive 21-year-old, widely known as “Messi Jay” in his homeland, often made quick runs into the box, lending support down the flanks when necessary, despite being fielded in an attacking role in the middle of the park. Malaysia found his movement and ball control to be a thorn in their side, and he was fouled four times. Regardless, he still managed to fire away eight shots on goal, the most by a player in a single match thus far. Fortunately for Malaysia, Chanatip still needs to work on his finishing, as only one of his shots landed on target.
Thai's gamble pays off
One of the main turning points in this match was the introduction of Adisak Kraisorn. The 23-year-old had played only half an hour in the opening game, but coach Kiatisuk brought him on as a first-half substitute for Kirati Keawsombut. After just two minutes on the pitch, Adisak flicked Charyl Chappuis’ cross past Khairul Fahmi for the equaliser. He was also involved in the second goal, and netted the winner after a lovely first touch took him past Afif to score at the near post.
Adisak also contributed by drifting out onto the left wing to open up space for Chanatip, Chappuis, and Kroekrit Thaweekarn, confusing the Malaysian defenders who were undecided whether to follow him on his forays. Despite not being the most involved with the ball, his smart movement with and without it helped Thailand’s midfielders shine.
Another potential turning point was Amri Yahyah’s stunning lob from within his own half on the stroke of half-time. Safee scrapped on the half-way line and the loose ball popped up to Amri, who spotted Kawin off his line and lifted it first-time. The ball hung in the air for what seemed an eternity, before pinging back into play off the crossbar. That chance came just two minutes after Thailand scored their first equalising goal. Had it gone in, Malaysia would have regained the advantage (psychologically and in terms of the score line), and both teams might have emerged for the second half in a different state of mind.
But that’s pure speculation. The reality is, Malaysia’s concentration and fitness dropped with a quarter of the match to go. That was glaringly obvious with Thailand’s winning goal, which came after Zubir failed to watch the movements of substitute Prakit Deeporm, who popped up on the right wing. Sarach Yooyen’s excellent through-ball cut out two defenders, leaving him with only an ill-equipped Indra Putra Mahayuddin to beat before crossing for Adisak’s winner.
While Malaysia’s passing and forward movement in this match was an improvement, there are still some defensive kinks to iron out. Afif Amiruddin was active at both ends of the pitch, but was often rash and unable to deal with Thailand’s quick forward movement. Just witness his tackles for Thailand’s second goal and the panic that ensued in the box.
Shukor, the captain, is another who might not return for the final group game against Singapore. He was left with cramp after a bustling run in the 87th minute, and was soon subbed off. Can he handle playing a third game in seven days? With Gary Steven Robbat available again, Dollah has some tough decisions to make.