The FourFourTwo Preview: Malaysia vs Thailand
The last shot at regional glory for several of Malaysia’s veterans.
The second leg of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup final sees Thailand arrive at the Bukit Jalil Stadium with a two-goal lead and bags of confidence. They know that one more goal is all they need to put this tie to bed, and that they have the firepower at their disposal, but most Malaysians still believe that a comeback is possible. After all, the Malaysian national team left it late to qualify for the semi-finals and the final, beating Singapore with two late goals and overcoming two away goals to defeat Vietnam in Hanoi. With that in mind, head coach Dollah Salleh will surely have his players fired up to perform one last escape act in front of their home crowd of 90,000 fans.
Shukor Adan and especially Safee Sali played in the first leg, thereby putting their fitness fears to bed. The striker is still being eased back, but with Indra Putra Mahayuddin reportedly picking up a knock in training, Safee might get his chance to shine. As for Thailand, Kirati Keowsombut and Adisorn Promrak are still injured, but the team has done well despite their absence for the last two matches.
Key battle: Gary Steven Robbat vs. Chanatip Songkrasin
22-year-old Gary Steven Robbat has not played since coming on as a substitute against Vietnam in the first leg, but he could be in line for a return to the starting line-up in this vital second leg of the final following Badhri Radzi’s disappointing performance on Wednesday. A natural holding midfielder, Robbat possesses ability to carry the ball out of defence and physicality to harry players off the ball. His presence would technically also allow Safiq Rahim to influence the game further up the pitch, where he’s at his best.
Although he can be slightly overenthusiastic at times, that might just be what Malaysia need to stem the War Elephants’ attacking forays, particularly against a Thai side with two skillful attacking midfielders in Charyl Chappuis and Chanatip Songkrasin. The former might have received more of the plaudits for his penalty goal, but Chanatip was no less impressive, roaming everywhere in the Malaysian half and causing mischief. The youngster, nicknamed “Messi Jay”, created six chances for his side (his overall total of 15 is the highest in the tournament), and was often difficult to stop.
The head coaches
Kiatisuk Senamuang needs his side to pick up at least a draw for them to be crowned Southeast Asian champions for the fourth time and for him to become the only person to have won the title as a player and as a coach, following his three titles in 1996, 2000, and 2002. Despite Thailand’s two-goal advantage, the man fondly known as Zico is not taking anything for granted, telling The Star: “We need to curb our attacking instinct to protect our lead. For sure we will try to play safe. Both teams want to be champions, and to win we must play well in Kuala Lumpur. Our job is not done yet. We want to bring back the trophy for the Thai people.”
Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh remained calm about the task at hand, saying: “We always play well when our back is against the wall. We went through the hard way to reach the final and I believe we can do it again at Bukit Jalil. It will be hard to beat Thailand as they are a very strong side, but I believe anything is possible in football.”
Facts and figures
- Malaysia have allowed their opponents 37 shots on target in six matches, an average of more than six a match.
- Malaysia have the worst disciplinary record at the tournament (12 yellow cards, 1 red card).
- Goalkeeper Farizal Marlias was the Malaysian with the most passes (39) and touches (49) against Thailand in the first leg.
- If he plays, Shukor Adan will extend his Malaysian record of AFF Championship appearances to 21.
- Thailand have kept four successive clean sheets, the most in the tournament, conceding just three goals, the fewest in the tournament.
- Chanatip Songkrasin has created 15 chances in five matches, the most in the tournament. He has two assists.
- Thailand’s Tanaboon Kesarat has made the most clearances in the tournament (54), followed closely by Malaysia’s Fadhli Shas (48).
- If Thailand win the cup, they will tie Singapore’s record of four AFF Championship titles.
Roared on by 90,000 fans, Malaysia might just score a goal (or two, if they are lucky), but Thailand have just too much in their locker to be denied. The cup will be heading to Bangkok.
(Photo: Khairil Ajhar Jaafar/asiana.my)