Safiq, Gan and Fazly: Who will Malaysia miss at the Suzuki Cup?

Malaysia have named alternatives for the long list of absentees due to retirement, injuries and surprising omissions, but Vijhay Vick feels the Tigers will still find it difficult to replace these players…

Safiq Rahim

The former Malaysia captain stunned the nation with his international retirement in June and his absence will be obvious at the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Safiq, the top scorer of the 2014 edition, is well-known and feared around the region. He nearly helped Malaysia produce a miraculous comeback in the 2014 Suzuki Cup final, where he scored twice in the second leg at Bukit Jalil, giving Malaysia a 3-3 aggregate lead on away goals. Only goals from Chanathip Songkrasin and Charyl Chappuis ensured Thailand walked away with the crown.

Safiq, who lifted the 2010 Suzuki Cup as captain, has won just about everything in region and was even picked as the 2015 AFC Cup Most Valuable Player after captaining Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) to the trophy.

The Tigers will miss Safiq’s dead-ball expertise and creativity in midfield.

Christie Jayaseelan

Christie has been unlucky with injuries in recent years and 2016 is no different.

The 30-year-old hardworking winger made two international appearances in 2012 but failed to impress and only returned to the Tigers squad last year, when he scored two goals in three games.

Injuries prevented him from picking up more appearances, but Christie returned this year and impressed many in the first leg of Malaysia’s Asian Cup qualifying playoff against Timor Leste on June 2

He missed the return leg four days later due to food poisoning but returned to action in the mid-year Oceania tour and was expected to be Ong Kim Swee’s first pick at left-wing at the Suzuki Cup.

Christie’s Suzuki Cup aspirations, however, ended up in smokes after needing surgery to correct four broken cheek bones after Felda United’s 2-0 defeat to Negeri Sembilan in the Malaysia Cup in August.

Azrif Nasrulhaq

Like Fazly, Azrif’s absence is another one with more questions than answers as he too was expected to be a sure starter for the Tigers.

Having impressed at right-back for Selangor, Ong decided to field Azrif on the right-wing against East Timor – a similar role he once played under the latter’s watch at Harimau Muda – and the 25-year-old grabbed his opportunity with man of the match displays in both legs.

He moved to JDT during the mid-season window and remained in the national team until shockingly being omitted in the Suzuki Cup provisional squad announced in October.

Azrif can also play as a full-back or winger on the left, versatility that would have been handy for the Tigers at the Suzuki Cup, especially given the absence Christie and Kunanlan.

Fazly Mazlan

Just why Fazly is not in the Tigers squad is a mystery. No injury has been reported and neither has the 22-year-old retired from international football like some of his other club-mates.

Even Ong refused to comment why Fazly was omitted, merely responding, “I picked the best available squad.”

Fazly was among Malaysia’s star performers against Timor Leste, showing little signs of stage frights despite it being his debut. Fazly broke into JDT’s starting line-up following injury to Asraruddin Putra Omar in the 2015 season and went on to make the left-back spot his.

Ong praised Fazly’s display with the national team but the former also missed the international friendly against Indonesia in September due to injury.

Brendan Gan

The Kelantan midfielder starred for the Malaysians in both matches against Timor Leste, dictating play and commanding the team to two 3-0 wins at a near-empty Larkin Stadium to ensure Malaysia will play in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.

Gan protected the back-four, joined in attacks and his commanding voice could even be heard from the press box. It was there for all to see that Gan was a tireless player that would throw everything on the line for his team.

The former A-League player is relatively new to the national team and only made his senior team debut in March, but he made himself almost indispensable since.

Gan, however, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – for the second time in two years – against Indonesia in September and his Suzuki Cup dreams ended. He is only expected to return to action midway through next year.

Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak

Aidil was the one that got the ball rolling as his retirement was followed by Safiq, S. Kunanlan and Amirul Hadi Zainal’s self-imposed exile.

His shocking decision left a gaping hole in Malaysia’s defence just as he was forging a partnership with Selangor captain Shahrom Kalam.

Aidil, who has been representing the country since 2007, is among the best centre-backs in the country. His composure and leadership at the back is something coaches have been fond off. Aidil missed the 2014 edition due to injury.

The Tigers have yet to find an ideal replacement for Aidil with the likes of Fadhli Shas, Ronny Harun and Khairul Helmi Johari all looking below par. Shahrul Saad is Malaysia’s best option to partner Shahrom but the former may be needed to fill the void left by Gan in midfield.