Malaysia vs Laos: Can a changed line-up continue Tigers' winning run?
Malaysia's chance to grab top spot heading into the SEA Games semi-finals.
Malaysia have already qualified for the semi-finasl and need only a draw in their final group match to secure top spot in Group A.
With the situation still too close to call in Group B, Malaysia enter the match with little inkling as to who their opponents could be in the final four, so there is no option of attempting to secure the best draw possible.
TAKE A LOOK BACK
The Malaysians are high in confidence after defeating Brunei, arch-rivals Singapore and supposedly the strongest team in the group, Myanmar.
Laos shouldn’t really be a match for Malaysia considering how they fared in losses to both Myanmar and Singapore, but they are certainly no walkovers.
Taking into account Malaysia's struggles against lowly Brunei in a 2-1 victory in their tournament opener, there is a fear of takings lightly again, a common trait in Malaysian teams. Coach Ong Kim Swee, however, insists their attitude towards the match will not be a concern.
Laos have nothing to play for but pride as Myanmar have also secured a place in the knock-out stages.
There were several players who picked up knocks against Myanmar and are unlikely to play a role against Laos.
Ong is expected to make as many as nine changes to the line-up, meaning the likes of Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik, Syafiq Ahmad, Jafri Firdaus Chew and Ifwat Akmal Chek Kassim are expected to take the field.
Midfield maestro Nor Azam Abdul Azih is unlikely to play any part in the match as he picked up a yellow card against Laos and risks a suspension.
PLAYER TO WATCH: SYAFIQ AHMAD
The Kedah forward did not have the best of games against Brunei and has not seen action since.
The Laos match will provide an opportunity to redeem himself and stake a claim for a place in the starting line-up. Syafiq was among Malaysia’s better performers at the AFC Under-23 qualifiers in Bangkok just last month.
If he can replicate his form there, Syafiq will be a threat to Laos’ backline.
FACTS & FIGURES
- Malaysia have defeated Laos seven of the eight times they have met at the Games, but Laos did pull off an upset at the 1997 edition in Jakarta.
- Malaysia have not won four matches in a row at the SEA Games since the 2009 and 2011 editions, both years they picked up the gold medal.
- Should Malaysia record another win, it will be the first time since the 2003 Games in Vietnam that they have completed the group stage with a 100 per cent record. Malaysia also won all their group matches when they hosted in 2001 and 1989.
Malaysia 2 Laos 0: A second-string side should be fired up to stake a claim for a starting place for the semi-final showdown.