Singapore v Malaysia: Key battles

Posted on July 21, 2011


Singapore keeper Lionel Lewis looks to be recovering well from an adductor muscle tear. But Lions coach Radojko Avramovic may consider that Malaysia’s star forward Safee Sali likes to play off the shoulder of the last defender, and his pace could fashion one on one chances. Izwan Mahbud’s international experience pales in comparison to Lionel’s, but he is injury free and quick off his line, which may tilt the balance in his favour.

In the absence of the injured Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Malaysia coach K Rajagobal can choose from Ahmad Fakri Saarani, Baddrol Bakhtiar or Abdul Hadi Yahya to partner Safee. Baddrol, who likes to run with the ball, looks more comfortable on the wing however. Hadi has been been getting a little more playing time than Ahmad Fakri, but it’s a toss-up between the two.

Safuwan Baharudin and Safee Sali

Safuwan Baharudin and Safee Sali

The AFF Suzuki Cup champions’ main man is of course Safee, the Pelita Jaya striker. Razor-sharp and possessed of an accurate finish, the Lions defence needs to deny him space and minimise his shooting opportunities.

The veteran Daniel Bennett will partner a strong, pacy defender who is likely to be tasked with closing Safee down – it remains to be seen if that role will go to Safuwan Baharudin or Hariss Harun.

Malaysia like to play down the flanks and both S Kunanlan and Baddrol Bakhtiar or Amirulhadi Zainal are pacy and direct. Kunanlan and Baddrol are capable of inter-changing flanks during a game, and Rajagobal likes his full-backs to support the attack as well.

Singapore’s fullbacks Ismail Yunos and Juma’at Jantan may not expect much defensive cover from Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi. Malaysia’s overloading on the flanks is likely to force one of the central defenders wide to help his fullback. During those occasions, one of the defensive midfielders (Mustafic Fahrudin and Hariss/Shahdan Sulaiman/Isa Halim) will have to drop to plug the gap.

Malaysia will go with the established partnership of captain Safiq Rahim and Amar Rohidan in the centre, generally with Safiq shuttling and Amar sitting. Safiq is the man who makes Malaysia tick with his industry and creativity; most of the Tigers’ forward play is channeled through him. The 30-year-old Mustafic cannot be the Lion assigned to keep apace with Safiq – that job will most likely go to Hariss, while Mustafic patrols the space.

Hariss Harun and Safiq Rahim

Hariss Harun and Safiq Rahim

That sets up a clash of two of the region’s best young midfielders in Hariss and Safiq. Hariss is an all-action midfielder but uncharacteristically faded after the first half of the friendly against Chinese Taipei; he cannot afford that against Malaysia.

The 20-year-old is likely to burst forward from deep and will note that Safiq can be tempted into rash challenges, the way he was when bringing down Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere for a penalty. On the other hand, the Lions are crystal-clear that conceding freekicks around the box could prove deadly – Safiq scored with freekicks in both legs of the previous qualifying round and against Liverpool.

With much of Malaysia’s forward play likely to come down the flanks, Singapore’s two deep-lying midfielders will often be drawn either wide or into defence. There are no worries about the quality of Lions skipper Shahril Ishak going forward, but he will have to take charge of the space in central midfield when Mustafic and Hariss are deep. Singapore line up 4-2-3-1 against Malaysia’s 4-4-2; the Lions will have to make the extra man in midfield count.

The Tigers’ backline has been pinpointed as a weakness, and Rajagobal will be hoping key defender Aidil Zafuan Radzak recovers from an ankle injury in time. If he does not, Muslim Ahmad will partner Fadhli Shas in central defence, with Asraruddin Putra on the left and Mahalli Jasuli on the right.

The fullbacks’ positioning can be suspect, and they are vulnerable to balls played in behind them. Muslim and Fadhli looked shaky against Liverpool, and one crashed a clearance off the back of the other to allow David Ngog to score. In goal, Sharbinee Allawee has been getting more playing time ahead of AFF Suzuki Cup hero Khairul Fahmy Che Mat. But Sharbinee has a minor groin strain and that could open the door for Khairul.

Shahril Ishak and Fadhli Shas

Shahril Ishak and Fadhli Shas

Singapore’s formation allows for fluidity in attack; with Shahril Ishak, Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi comfortable with inter-changing positions, they will hope that their movement engenders confusion in the Malaysian backline. Aleksandar Duric must dominate against Muslim Ahmad and Fadhli Shas, opening space for Qiu Li and Shi, both possessed of a powerful finish, to capitalise.

Against Chinese Taipei, Singapore’s play looked a lot more coherent after Shahril moved into the centre after starting on the left. The Lions will look to him once again to knit their play, after Shahdan Sulaiman put in a subdued performance against Chinese Taipei.

Off the bench
Malaysia have midfielders Shakir Shaari, K Gurusamy and Ashaari Samsudin to come off the bench. The uncapped Ismail Faruqi Ashari did well against Liverpool and could be a surprise show. There’s precious little cover at the back – should Muslim or Fadhli get injured, Rajagobal may have to risk the injured Aidil Zafuan or play a fullback in the centre. Upfront, Rajagobal can choose from Ahmad Fakri Saarani or Abdul Hadi Yahya, and Izzaq Faris Ramlan to change the game.

For Singapore, defenders Hamqamaal Shah or Afiq Yunos could come on if S Kunanlan or Baddrol Bakhtiar/Amirulhadi Zainal prove too hot for the starters to handle. Shaiful Esah has not been in his best form but could be an option off the bench for his set-piece delivery. In midfield, Isa Halim is the choice if Raddy Avramovic needs to introduce a spoiler, while Shahdan Sulaiman would help the team hold possession and craft chances with his incisive passing. Upfront, Fazrul Nawaz is the man Avramovic will look to if the team needs to poach a goal.