Malaysia vs Lebanon: Tigers’ Asian Cup quest finally set to re-start

Asian Cup Qualifiers | Larkin Stadium | Tue June 13 | 9.45pm

Billed as

Solid test first-up in Vingada’s first match in charge of Malaysia.

The lowdown

A lot of talk heading into this match was centred around the appointment of Portugal’s Nelo Vingada, Malaysia’s first foreign coach since 2004, and the return of Safiq Rahim.

Vingada was hand-picked by Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who took charge in March and insisted Malaysia needed a foreign coach to chart their future.

The previous FAM administration had placed a target of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup, but Tunku Ismail stopped short of that

This was supposed to be Malaysia’s second qualifying match but the tie against North Korea has been twice postponed already, first due to diplomatic tensions between the two countries and then because of a geo-political crisis in the Korean peninsula.

Having moved training camp from Wisma FAM to Johor Bahru, Vingada could not have asked for a better place to prepare his charges. Harimau Malaya have been using Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) state-of-the-art facilities since the start of the month.

The previous FAM administration had placed a target of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup but Tunku Ismail stopped short of that, insisting there were a lot of improvements required in many areas. He did, however, say little will be spared in preparing the team.

It is still very early for Vingada but Malaysians are hopeful that the national team will soon enjoy some better days.

Vingada in training to face Lebanon

Lebanon, however, will not be ideal first opponents for Harimau Malaya. The Lebanese defeated Hong Kong 2-0 in Beirut in their opening match in March.

Ranked No.135 by FIFA, 20 places ahead of Malaysia, Lebanon will enter the match as favourites.

Malaysia may take a cautious approach as having faced Lebanese striker Mohammed Ghaddar in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), the Tigers will be aware of the threat his compatriots can pose. Ghaddar, however, was surprisingly omitted from the squad.

Team News

Having closed their training sessions to the media until Sunday, very little news about the Malaysia squad has been revealed in the press.

The Tigers have replaced injured Aidil Zafuan, Azrif Nasrulhaq, S. Kunanlan and Fazly Mazlan – all JDT defenders – with Afif Amiruddin, Faisal Rosli (uncapped), Nazrin Syamsul (uncapped) and Nazirul Naim.

Malaysia, however, still appear a stronger side compared to the one that struggled at the AFF Suzuki Cup following the return of former skipper Safiq Rahim.

Player to watch: Safiq Rahim

There were those that questioned his return because Safiq had turned his back on the country by retiring from international football while still well in his prime.

He was captain then and the best central midfielder Malaysia had produced in years.

Most fans will be pleased to see him back

He announced his return to the international scene immediately after his JDT boss Tunku Ismail came into the FAM and despite what reservations some may have, there is little to deny that the Tigers need Safiq’s services.

The 29-year-old has creativity like no other in the squad and can dictate play. The 2015 AFC Cup most valuable player is a big threat from set-pieces too.

Fact and Figures

  • Malaysia and Lebanon have met each other only once in the past, with the Lebanese winning the President’s Cup tie 3-1 way back in 1975.
  • The Tigers have not qualified for the Asian Cup on merit since the 1980 edition in Kuwait. Malaysia featured as hosts in 2007 but finished bottom of a group comprising Iran, Uzbekistan and China.
  • Malaysia have not won since scraping past Cambodia 3-2 in the Suzuki Cup opener in November. The Tigers lost the following two matches at that tournament 1-0 – to Vietnam and Myanmar – and drew 0-0 in a friendly against Philippines in March.

Prediction

Malaysia 1 Lebanon 2: The visitors may not break down Malaysia easily, but they probably will eventually.

Photos: FAM