Malaysia v Singapore: Key battles

Posted on July 27, 2011


A number of issues here for Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic to ponder. Despite conceding three goals last Saturday, rookie keeper Izwan Mahbud’s overall performance was comforting. The more experienced Lionel Lewis looks like he will be ready to play, but the Home United keeper won’t be a hundred per cent fit.

Lewis could have the mental edge over Izwan in terms of handling the pressure of Bukit Jalil and its full house of howling Malaysians, and will be more vocal – an important consideration on Thursday. In Izwan’s favour however is the fact that despite being 20 and possessing little international experience, he is a calm, composed keeper, as well as his better reflexes and ability at one-on-ones.

Singapore leftback Juma’at Jantan showed plenty of bravery and industry on Saturday, but took a debilitating knock to the knee in the first half and was clearly struggling at the end. If he does not make it to the starting lineup, Shaiful Esah looks set to replace him. Afiq Yunos and Delwinder Singh are plausible candidates, but neither have been tested much at international level.

Shaiful’s quality at crosses and set-piece deliveries is undoubted, but he has been struggling with form since returning from a serious injury last year. Either Juma’at or Shaiful will have to handle Malaysian Amirulhadi Zainal, whose pace made an impact in the second half on Saturday. That allowed Tigers rightback Mahalli Jasuli to overlap more, and Qiu Li will have to put in more of a defensive shift to counter that.

One position that Avramovic definitely has to fill is that of rightback. Ismail Yunos is suspended, with either Ruzaini Zainal or Isa Halim set to come in. Ruzaini, a converted midfielder, offers an intriguing option with his forward forays. The more experienced Isa would be a decent call to negate the threat of Tigers winger S. Kunanlan however.

All of Malaysia’s goals on Saturday came from the flanks, and Avramovic will no doubt impress the need for his team to shut off that supply. That means Shi Jiayi on the right and Qiu Li on the left have to at the very least, block off the overlapping runs of Mahalli and Asraruddin Putra.

The central defensive partnership of Daniel Bennett and Safuwan Baharudin is promising but needs work. Bennett received strong criticism for his display last week, and the veteran clearly should have done better on all of Malaysia’s goals.

But the lapses aside, Bennett covered well and won the majority of his challenges. Both Bennett and Safuwan, so impressive on Saturday, need to be tighter with their marking. They will face Safee Sali and either Ahmad Fakri Saarani or Abdul Hadi Yahya.

There were outstanding performances from Hariss Harun and Mustafic Fahrudin in the centre of the midfield last week. But Hariss may have to curb his all-action instincts; especially after his opposite number Safiq Rahim was sent off on Saturday, Hariss was everywhere – and that eventually caused Singapore problems. That loss of positional discipline was one reason why the Malaysians got back into the match, and the 20-year-old will need to be more judicious at Bukit Jalil.

With captain Safiq out, Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal is likely to hand Ismail Faruqi Ashari his second cap. The midfielder impressed on the right last week and will have to provide creativity in the middle alongside the more defensive Amar Rohidan. Rajagobal’s other options for Safiq’s spot are Shakir Shaari and K. Gurusamy. Kunanlan will retain his place on the left while Amirulhadi Zainal is likely to come in on the right.

Singapore captain Shahril Ishak was quiet on Saturday, but he remains the playmaker of the team and will want to show more at Bukit Jalil to make that free role his permanently. If Shahril can pose enough of a threat to keep Amar Rohidan deep and prevent Aidil Zafuan Radzak from stepping into midfield, that will provide opportunities for Hariss or Mustafic to push on – as shown to devastating effect last week.

Rajagobal has resisted calls from both the public and from within the Football Association of Malaysia to call up the experienced defensive duo of Norhafiz Zamani Misbah and S. Subramaniam. The coach retains confidence in the backline that conceded five on Saturday, especially since Aidil Zafuan will return. Zafuan will likely partner Fadhli Shas, since Muslim Ahmad did not impress at Jalan Besar.

Harimau keeper Sharbinee Allawee took a lot of flak back home for the goals he conceded, but it’s hard to see how any but the very best keepers could have saved any of Singapore’s goals. Still, Rajagobal may turn to Khairul Fahmy Che Mat, who impressed at the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The grand old man of Singapore’s attack, Aleksandar Duric, was majestic last Saturday. Always a step ahead of his markers (nearly two decades younger than him), Duric was also nimble enough to nutmeg Fadhli Shas for Singapore’s fourth goal and turn Muslim Ahmad for the fifth. He will have a lot more attention focussed on him at Bukit Jalil though, and Aidil Zafuan is a harder nut to crack.

Rajagobal singled out Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi as the main perpetrators of his side’s downfall last week, and will surely have a plan for them. The Chinese-born duo should not expect as much space to operate in on Thursday, and will have to shield their fullbacks a lot more. Instead of going on the outside of their man as they did countless times at Jalan Besar, both are capable of cutting in for a shot or a cross.

Singapore v laser pointers
The Lions management will have to prepare the team for both a hostile crowd and the prospect of their concentration being disrupted by fans using laser pointers. Those pointers caused Indonesia to walk off in the 54th minute of their AFF Suzuki Cup final against Malaysia last year, a match they went on to lose. Lionel or Izwan will have to be firm enough to alert the referee to such antics; as well, if there is a stoppage, the entire team must maintain the focus which is so easy to drop at moments like these.