The FourFourTwo Preview: Malaysia vs Hong Kong
- Oman 6-0 Malaysia (Friendly)
- Malaysia 3-2 Thailand (AFF)
- Thailand 2-0 Malaysia (AFF)
- Vietnam 2-4 Malaysia (AFF)
- Malaysia 2-1 Vietnam (AFF)
HONG KONG FORM
- Hong Kong 1-0 Guam (Friendly)
- Hong Kong 0-0 Guam (EAFF)
- Chinese Taipei 0-1 Hong Kong (EAFF)
- North Korea 2-1 Hong Kong (EAFF)
- Hong Kong 0-7 Argentina (Friendly)
A non-circus game.
This match offers Dollah Salleh his first chance for redemption after the 6-0 drubbing to Oman in March. The latest FIFA World Rankings place Hong Kong (164th) just a spot below Malaysia (tied for 162nd), so this match promises to be a competitive encounter between two international minnows.
With the '#SayNotoCircusGames' protest out of the way (at least until Liverpool come to town in late July), the Ultras Malaya should return in full force to inspire their players to a much-needed win in what will be Malaysia’s final international test before kicking off their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign against Timor Leste (June 11th) and Palestine (June 16th).
After finalising his 23-man squad on Friday, rest assured that Dollah will start with his strongest available side. He told The Star, “I can’t afford to test any more players. This is the last warm-up match before we begin our World Cup qualifying round campaign.”
Hong Kong are in a similar situation. Having spent the last few days in Malaysia to train and play a warm-up match against Felda United, this friendly will be their final preparation ahead of their own World Cup qualifiers against Bhutan and Maldives. The HKFA have also hired Sergio Ikeda, a Japanese specialist fitness coach, for the duration of the qualifiers.
Tobias Zuser, editor-in-chief of Offside.hk, comments: “As time is very limited [the Hong Kong Premier League season has just finished], the environment in Kuala Lumpur will definitely be a more suitable condition for Kim Pan-gon and his team to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Funding for such activities hasn't been there for long time, so that's definitely a step in the right direction by the HKFA.”
“I would assume that the team won't focus much on the result of the friendly games, but will rather use them to try out some new line-ups and tactics.”
If any good came out of the 'circus game' against Tottenham Hotspur last week, it was the chance for Dollah to see some of his fringe players in action against an international opposition. In the gaffer’s own words, Nasir Basharuddin was “superb”, while Joseph Kalang Tie and Yong Kuong Yong also staked their claim for a squad place.
Malaysia’s strikers also returned to scoring ways in a morale-boosting 4-0 friendly win over Premier League side Kuantan last week, with Safee Sali (two goals), Afiq Azmi, and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha getting on the scoresheet. Norshahrul would later withdraw from the squad due to injury.
Dollah has no major injury concerns after selecting the best 23 players available for his World Cup qualifier squad.
Hong Kong will be without their all-time top scorer Chan Siu-Ki, after the 29-year-old South China striker injured knee ligaments in May. Fellow striker Liang Zicheng withdrew due to family issues, so Kim has added forwards Lam Hok Hei and Chan Man Fai, allowing him to experiment with his front line to find the best attacking combination. Nonetheless, Jaimes McKee and Xu Deshuai are expected to start up front, with the latter being the top-scoring local player in the HK Premier League this season.
Goalkeeper Tsang Man Fai is also injured, but he has not been replaced in the squad as there are three other goalkeepers available. Cameroon-born defender Jean-Jacques Kilama may make his international debut for Hong Kong after recently receiving citizenship.
Key battle: Safiq Rahim vs. Lam Ka Wai
These two should be familiar foes, as JDT and Kitchee were grouped together in this season’s AFC Cup, and Safiq and Lam were often in direct competition in the middle of the park in both of their meetings.
Captain for club and country, Safiq’s best position is arguably as a proper central midfielder, where he can control the pace of the game while occasionally dashing forward to support the attack. After winning the Golden Boot at the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, “Chopot” has improved his shooting this season, notching three goals each in the league and in the AFC Cup, making him JDT’s top scorer in both competitions thus far. His deadly ability from set-pieces has even earned him a feature on FIFA’s website.
His opposite number Lam is an attacking midfielder known for his powerful shots and excellent vision. As Kitchee’s vice-captain and creator, he played a big role in the club’s romp to the domestic treble this season, winning the inaugural HK Premier League as well as the FA and League Cups. The 29-year-old has scored six goals this season.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Malaysia 1-1 Hong Kong (Nov '12)
- Hong Kong 0-3 Malaysia (Oct '12)
- Hong Kong 1-1 Malaysia (Jun '11)
- Malaysia 2-0 Hong Kong (Feb '11)
- Hong Kong 2-0 Malaysia (Oct '04)
The head coaches
He may not admit it, but the pressure is on for Dollah to pull a rabbit out of the hat and earn his first international victory in four attempts against non-Southeast Asian opposition. While he might not be the worst national team coach of the past decade, Dollah’s reign has seen the Tigers concede an average of 2.38 goals per game. Nonetheless, with how things are going at the moment, the people wouldn’t mind too much if Khairul Fahmi Che Mat & Co. conceded a goal or two as long as the forwards bang a few in up front to earn a win.
Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon has recently received some flak, as 11 members of his 25-man squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers are naturalised citizens or were born in mainland China. In response, he told local players to quit moaning and work harder, telling The South China Morning Post: “If they were good enough, we would not have to look outside.”
Zuser adds: “Kim is still perceived very positively in Hong Kong, and I think it is fair to say that the team have indeed improved a bit over the last years. However, having said that, it is clear that Kim needs to deliver. His contract is going to expire this summer and the HKFA hasn't made the decision yet whether they will extend it. That means, there will be a lot at stake in the next two games against Bhutan and Maldives.”
Facts and figures
- Both teams are evenly matched in head-to-head competition, each amassing three wins (sharing two draws) in their eight meetings since 2001.
- However, Malaysia have the edge in recent years, being unbeaten in the last four matches between these two sides.
- Hong Kong have not won a match in Southeast Asia since beating Timor Leste 3-2 in 2007.
- Safee Sali and Safiq Rahim have both accumulated two goals against Hong Kong in their careers.
Lee Seng Foo (FFT Malaysia/Singapore Managing Editor) – A narrow defeat for Malaysia. The Harimau Malaya still look fangless up front to me, while Hong Kong are seemingly taking this match very seriously judging from the way they have prepared themselves so far.
Darren Goon (FFT.com contributor) – I can’t see Malaysia scoring more than one goal, but I can’t see Hong Kong scoring more than one either. This will probably end in a draw.
Tobias Zuser (Offside.hk Editor-in-Chief) – I predict a 1-1 draw. I see both teams currently on the same level and therefore I expect a rather balanced game.
Christopher Lau (Wild East Football) – I reckon it will be a 0-0 draw with both teams easing up before the qualifiers.
(Picture: HKFA, asiana.my)