Malaysia’s Fakri ready for action ahead of Vietnam clash

Midfielder Ahmad Fakri Saarani may not have started Malaysia’s opening AFF Suzuki Cup Group B win over Cambodia, but he is ready to be thrown into action if called upon to face a fancied Vietnam side on Wednesday.

Fakri could start in central midfield if Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee, as expected, puts out a defensive-minded line-up to counter the threat Nguyen Huu Thang’s men will pose.

The Tigers struggled at times in the 3-2 victory against the Cambodians and Ong has already said changes for the second group match are due.

Fakri could play in a three-man engine room with Baddrol Bakhtiar and either S. Veenod or Shahrul Saad in the hope that having more bodies in the middle will make things difficult for Vietnam, who put on a stellar performance to defeat co-host Myanmar 2-1 on the opening day.

“Of course I’m ready … as a professional footballer, I have to be. Even if I don’t get to play against Vietnam, I won’t get discouraged and will be up for the challenge in the final group match,” said Fakri.

“I’m comfortable playing in midfield too, whether it is in an attacking or defensive role.”

Malaysia will enter the match as underdogs but Fakri, who has played against Vietnam since his age-group days, feels the label only reduces pressure on the team.

Vietnam have lost only once in 2016 – a 1-0 defeat to Iraq in March – while Malaysia suffered losses to Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The Tigers, however, have won two matches in a row and are seeking a third despite the odds stacked against them.

“I expect Vietnam to be different than Cambodia … they are more mature and have been playing together a lot, so they are certainly more experienced. Vietnam like going forward a lot too,” said Fakri.

“They are the favourites but I feel going in as underdogs may be in our favour. Yes, there are pros and cons, especially in terms of confidence, but we have been preparing well. Being an underdog eases some pressure.

“The win over Cambodia gave us a good morale boost and everyone wants to build on that in the Suzuki Cup.”