The FourFourTwo Preview: Vietnam vs Malaysia

AFF Suzuki Cup Semi Final | My Dinh Stadium | Thu 11 Dec | 8pm

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A clash of the only other winners of the cup besides Singapore and Thailand.

The lowdown

The Harimau Malaya will look to avoid their third loss to Vietnam in the space of a month as they head to the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi with a mountain to climb. 2-1 down from the first leg with the added pressure of overturning two away goals, Dollah Salleh’s side will need to score at least twice to even stand a chance of progressing to the final for the first time since their victorious 2010 campaign.

To make matters worse for the Malaysians, they will be in for a fiery atmosphere in the wake of violent attacks by a section of home fans on the Vietnam supporters at the Shah Alam Stadium in the first leg. While the Vietnam Football Federation have promised that security will be tight, the Vietnamese fans will look to match the brilliant Ultras Malaya and be their team’s twelfth man.

After taking the lead through a Safiq Rahim penalty, Malaysia were left sorely exposed in midfield as Vietnam’s quick movement and passing tore them to shreds. Only Khairul Fahmi Che Mat’s heroics prevented a loss by an even larger margin, and Malaysia almost self-destructed with some late challenges and off the ball incidents as the match wore on in the pouring rain.

To get through to the final, Malaysia will have to beat Vietnam in their own backyard, something they have never done. Meanwhile, the home team have lost just once at home in eleven matches in 2014.

Team news

Both teams have no injuries to report, and will welcome key personnel back from suspension. Vietnam should field Vu Minh Tuan on the right flank; while the visitors will be boosted by the return of skipper Shukor Adan in defence and talisman Amri Yahyah in attack.

Following his poor showing in the first leg, Muslim Ahmad is in line to be dropped in favour of Shukor, who will partner Fadhli Shas. Amri is likely to replace Kunanlan on the left. Dollah Salleh is also expected to return Gary Steven Robbat to the starting lineup at the expense of Hafiz Kamal.

Key battle: Gary Steven Robbat vs. Nguyen Van Quyet

Nguyen Van Quyet started the first leg as a playmaker/second striker behind captain Le Cong Vinh, and his movement caused the Malaysian defence plenty of problems, as the 23-year-old drifted all over the attacking third. He eventually scored a wonderful curling goal that turned out to be the winner.

Van Quyet was allowed to thrive partly due to Dollah’s decision to partner stand-in captain Safiq Rahim with Hafiz Kamal. Neither are specialized holding midfielders, and were often found high up the pitch when they should have tracked back to assist the defence. The resulting gap between the Malayisan midfield and defence was exploited by the movement of Vietnam’s attackers, and even central midfielder Ngo Hoang Thinh managed to drive forward and take five shots at goal, the most by any player in the match.

Gary came on with half an hour to play and immediately made an impact, anchoring the midfield and offering a physical presence that his opponents had difficulty dealing with. While the youngster can be a bit overly-exuberant with his tackles, his presence will be necessary to deal with the threat of Van Quyet.  

The head coaches

Dollah Salleh has already indicated that he will give several fringe players a chance to play, with some under-performing names to be dropped, such as Mahali Jasuli, who was singled out by the coach after the first leg for failing to do his defensive duty. Badhri Radzi is another player who could make his first appearance of the tournament, but Dollah has yet to decide whether to play an attacking game, or depend on the counter-attack for goals.

His counterpart, Japanese coach Toshiya Miura, maintained that anything can happen in football, and that his team should not rest on their advantage. He also suggested that defender Nguyen Xuan Thanh and midfielder Le Tan Tai might play a part in the match.

Facts and figures

  • Vietnam have only conceded five shots on target in the four games they’ve played so far, the lowest in the tournament.
  • Accordingly, goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh has made only one save in the tournament, conceding four goals.
  • In contrast, Malaysian goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat has had to make 19 saves, the highest in the tournament.
  • Nguyen Huy Hung has made the most passes in the tournament, 256.
  • Malaysia’s Safiq Rahim is currently the AFF Suzuki Cup’s top scorer, with three goals.

FourFourTwo predictions

Malaysia will put up a stern fight, and maybe score a goal (or two, if they’re lucky), but it won’t be enough for them to overturn the deficit and qualify for the final.