The FourFourTwo Preview: Malaysia XI vs Tottenham
A circus game (if you're a pro-local-football fan).
In case you miraculously haven’t heard, a big hoo-ha about this match has been made. Some of the local football fans have been calling for a boycott of the match for interrupting the regular M-League fixtures and affecting the Malaysia national team’s preparation for the World Cup qualifiers against Timor Leste and Palestine in June, while the Tottenham and English football fans have been saying otherwise. Even Indra Putra Mahayuddin has publicly stated it is not a circus game, but it has not stopped the boycott. However whether you are for or against this match, it will take place as scheduled and serve as a crucial warm-up match for the Malaysia players, along with a friendly match against Hong Kong on June 6th, before they tackle the World Cup qualifiers.
With the unavailability of the JDT and Pahang players due to their AFC Cup commitment, Dollah has picked five foreign players for the exhibition match: Robert Cornthwaite (Australia), Thiago Junio (Brazil), Ali Ashfaq (Maldives), Guilherme de Paula (Brazil) and Paulo Rangel (Brazil). Meanwhile, in the locals department, goalkeeper Ramadhan Hamid and striker Afiq Azmi were dropped from the squad to the excessive number of players in their positions, and the ever-reliable Baddrol Bakhtiar was unable to recover from an injury he recently picked up.
Those remained in the team include Yong Kuong Yong, Ronny Harun, Christie Jayaseelan, Joseph Kalang Tie, and Hazwan Bakri, who all have been recalled from the international wilderness and given a chance to re-establish themselves in the national set-up, as well as three new faces in Zamir Selamat, Nik Shahrul Azim Abdul Halim, Ahmad Syamim Yahya and Nasir Basharrudin.
As for Tottenham, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Tom Carroll are unlikely to feature prominently in the match, as they are due to represent England Under-21 in the 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. Last season's fringe players – the likes of goalkeeper Michel Vorm, full-back DeAndre Yedlin and striker Roberto Soldado – are expected to be given run-in.
Key battle: Ali Ashfaq vs Jan Vertonghen
Long hailed as one of the best foreign players in Malaysia in recent years, Ashfaq will get to test his ability against arguably one of the best defenders in the Premier League, Jan Vertonghen (if both start the match as predicted). As Tottenham have strong players on both flanks, it might force Malaysia XI wingers to take on a defensive approach, leaving the Maldivian as the creative lynchpin to supply the ball to Paulo Rangel, who is likely to start the match and face the taller and more physically imposing Federico Fazio. Knowing Ashfaq, he will drift all over the place and exploit any room which is vacated by the Tottenham's marauding full-backs, so the Belgium international has to keep an eye on him.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Pochettino said he is expecting a tough match for his side because the local players will be eager to impress to be selected for the World Cup qualifiers. Besides that, the Argentine head coach highlighted that the Malaysian weather could prove to be difficult for his players. Similarly, in the same press conference, Dollah believes the weather will be advantageous to his side.
Facts and figures
- A Malaysia Selection side have played English teams on 20 occasions since 1974, winning just once – ironically against Spurs' arch-rivals, Arsenal, in 1975.
- This is the first time foreign players will feature for a Malaysia Selection side.
- The last time Malaysia XI played at the Shah Alam Stadium, they lost 3-1 to Barcelona in 2013.
Judging from their previous encounters against European clubs, it is usually a foregone conclusion that Malaysia XI would lose this match. However, with the addition of the foreign players in the squad, things might be different for once. 2-2.