End of an era: How will Malaysia line up without Safiq Rahim?
Goalkeeper: Khairul Fahmi Che Mat
Usually Malaysia’s No.1, the Kelantan goalkeeper played second-fiddle to Izham Tarmizi Roslan in the Asian Cup qualifying play-offs against Timor Leste in June. Izham is out injured, paving the way for Khairul to return to the line-up.
Left-back: Azrif Nasrulhaq
Azrif was among Malaysia’s bright sparks against the East Timorese, starting on the right-flank and exceeded expectations in both legs of the playoff.
Yet he is expected to be shifted to defence as the Malaysians are running short of options after Nazirul Naim Che Hashim and Fazly Mazlan are out of the squad due to injuries. Malacca’s Khair Jones is the only other left-back option in the squad.
Right-back: Matthew Davies
There isn’t really another option than the Pahang captain for this role following S. Kunanlan’s retirement. Australian-born Davies already has a few appearances for the Tigers squad and will perhaps be the only starter in defence that appears certain of making the position his for a reasonable future.
The former Australian Institute of Sports skipper also featured for the Malaysian under-22 side against Bahrain on Tuesday.
Centre-back: Ronny Harun
Ong could resort to Ronny’s experience to help calm an untested back-four. Though never a regular for the Tigers, the Sarawak captain finds himself the most senior defender in the squad.
Ong could also rely on Amer Saidin, Shahrul Saad and Fadhli Shas reproducing their Harimau Muda displays but experience could come in handy against a side that are bent on returning from an international exile with a win against their closest rivals.
Centre-back: Fadhli Shas
Shahrul Saad’s recent showing with Perak warrants a starting role but Fadhli Shas could be given the nod as Ong tries to minimise changes. Fadhli has been playing on the international scene since 2011 and is the only centre-back remaining from the previous call-up.
Fadhli, however, is not a regular at Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and will need to prove his match fitness to be selected.