Go for it Harimau Malaya, make it to the final!
From Ahmad Nazrin Syahmi Mohamad Arif
BANGKOK, Jan 9 (Bernama) -- The 1-0 result in the first-leg semifinal against defending champions Thailand does not give Malaysia much of an advantage when the two teams meet in the second leg here tomorrow night to determine who progresses to the 2022 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup final.
Against the "wounded” War Elephants, the Harimau Malaya coached by Kim Pan Gon are in danger if they continue to play defensively in the second leg at the Thammasat Stadium in the Pathum Thani province.
It will only be matter of time that Malaysia concede goals if they adopt a 'negative football' approach against the regional powerhouse who displayed high technical ability and managed to dominate 90 minutes of the game during the first leg at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, two days ago.
Based on the match statistics, Alexandre Polking's men dominated ball possession up to 72 per cent and made a total of 18 attempts with four of them on target, while Malaysia only created one accurate attack out of five attempts.
Credit must be given to goalkeeper Ahmad Syihan Hazmi Mohamed, who performed brilliantly in saving four dangerous Thai attempts, as well as nippy winger Mohamad Faisal Abdul Halim, who scored the winning goal that night.
Those statistics were the worst recorded by the national team after four games.
Even though Thailand are ranked lower than Vietnam, Malaysia were seen to display a more energetic and dynamic performance when facing the Golden Star Warriors in their previous group match in Hanoi.
In addition to maintaining their good momentum in Bukit Jalil, Thailand will surely be out to eliminate Malaysia in front of their own supporters in their quest to defend the title.
The second leg should be the stage for Pan Gon to fulfill his long-delayed promise when he said that the national team would 'go all out' against Thailand but instead the visitors dominated the entire game.
Speaking about defensive play, the strategy requires optimal level of fitness of the players because it is very tiring especially for the defenders and was acknowledged by national defender Sharul Nazeem Zulpakar.
However, there is positive news for Malaysia's defence department as Muhammad Azam Azmi Murad is now free from a two-match suspension following the controversial red card he received in the match against Vietnam.
A strong defensive combination is highly necessary to face Thailand's attack led by prolific 34-year-old striker Teerasil Dangda, besides winger Bordin Phala who makes the national players uncomfortable with his running and dribbling skills.
Attention should also be paid to the top scorer of the 2018 edition, Adisak Kraisorn, who is always waiting for an opportunity to add a goal after only scoring one in the tournament campaign this time.
In tomorrow's clash, playing offensively or defensively, the national team should not waste the (1-0) advantage they have to advance to the final and have the chance to make up for the disappointment of emerging as runners-up in 2018.
Tomorrow's match could also be dragged to a penalty shootout thus repeating the script of the meeting at Thailand King's Cup tournament last September which saw Ahmad Syihan emerge as Malaysia's hero when he denied Supachok Sarachart's shot.
The victory in Bukit Jalil on Saturday saw Malaysia extend their unbeaten record against Thailand to six matches after winning two and drawing three in their previous meetings since 2018.
However, Thailand are the most successful team in the AFF Cup since the inaugural event in 1996, having emerged champions six times after appearing in nine finals.
Thailand also have a slight advantage in the meeting record against Malaysia in the semi-final stage, having won two of three encounters, in the 2000 (2-0) and 2012 (3-1) editions while losing on away goals in the 2018 edition.