Malaysia vs Afghanistan: Tigers out to show more bite in midfield
Players’ last chance to impress before AFF Suzuki Cup squad announcement
Ong Kim Swee’s charges are preparing for the Suzuki Cup and this match offers the players – some of whom have not done enough to warrant a ticket to Myanmar next month – to impress the coaches before the squad is announced later in October.
Malaysia return home after a 0-0 draw against Singapore, a match that surely gave Ong mixed feelings. The trainer is still looking for the right balance in the squad and attempts to settle on a fixed starting XI has been hampered by retirements and Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) refusal to allow its players to join training camp early.
Defensively, Shahrom Kalam’s return was a massive boost but the Tigers desperately need a solution to their weak midfield, an area where Baddrol Bakhtiar and Irfan Fazail were clearly second best against Singapore.
Malaysia’s attack need to find their stride and against a robust team like Afghanistan, chances may not be plenty.
The visitors are no strangers to the region after being group together with Singapore in the 2016 World Cup qualifiers. Afghanistan lost 1-0 to the Republic away from home but prevailed 2-1 in the return fixture in Tehran.
Azrif Nasrulhaq is doubtful after he was forced off against Singapore but Ong will have five additional players to select after leaving them behind to work on their fitness.
Ong also has a big decision to make in dropping skipper Amri Yahyah and former protégé Irfan Fazail after an ineffective performance against the Lions. There could be several other changes as the likes of Hadin Azman, Ahmad Fakri Saarani and S. Veenod have not had much game time in national colours.
Players to watch: Norshahrul Idlan Talaha
Only included to the squad after JDT II ordered their players back to the club, Norshahrul’s fitness was in doubt, so much so Ong was forced put the Terengganu forward under a special regime.
The 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup winner came off the bench on Friday and was perhaps Malaysia’s only spark in the opponent’s half.
Norshahrul, or known as ‘MatYo’ by many, may have even laid stake to captain Amri’s role behind frontman Ahmad Hazwan Bakri. Norshahrul is good with his feet, able to turn his marker and crucially brings creativity to the starting XI.
Facts and figures
- Malaysia defeated Afghanistan 6-0 at the 2008 Merdeka Tournament, the only previous encounter between the two nations.
- The Tigers have not won since Safiq, Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak, S. Kunanlan and Amirulhadi Zainal retired in July while the visitors’ only win in 2016 came against Singapore in March.
- Afghanistan are preparing for the 2019 Asian Cup qualifying starting next March, something the Malaysians too will turn their attention to after the Suzuki Cup.
Malaysia 0 Afghanistan 2. Malaysia struggled to last the pace against a Singapore side that had trouble finding their feet in previous matches and, with the Afghans being a more physical side, the hosts are expected to struggle.