It’s do-or-die time for Malaysia
Published on: Friday, June 11, 2021
By: Bernama
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Naturalised player Guilherme de Paula (front) and the other national players during a training session in Dubai on Wednesday. – FAM FB photo
Kuala Lumpur: It’s win or bust! That’s the reality of the situation facing Malaysia as they prepare to take on Vietnam in the second round of the 2022 World Cup/2023 Asian Cup Group G qualifying match at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Friday (12.45 am Saturday Malaysian time).

Vietnam will take to the field brimming with confidence after trouncing Indonesia 4-0 on Tuesday (June 8) to lead Group G with 14 points from six matches while Malaysia are still reeling from a similar 4-0 thumping at the hands of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week to be placed fourth in the standings with nine points.

On paper, the world No. 92 Golden Dragons are clearly in a different class, with results favouring Vietnam based on previous meetings.

Since South Korean Park Hang Seo took charge as the Vietnam coach in 2017, Malaysia have never been able to get the better of them, having lost to them three times and drawn once. 

The last time the two teams met, in October 2019, Vietnam edged the Harimau Malaya 1-0 in Hanoi.

The Vietnamese have been on a roll since losing 1-0 to Japan in the 2019 Asian Cup quarter-finals. Since then, they have yet to taste defeat in seven outings, including edging the UAE 1-0 in 2019 and holding Jordan to a 1-1 draw recently. 

National coach Tan Cheng Hoe and his men must surely be wary of the Vietnamese players’ agility, speedy counter-attacks and ability to control games although this time the Golden Dragons will be without their best player, Nguyen Quang Hai, who will have to sit out one match after receiving two yellow cards.

The one bright spot for Malaysia is that the presence of heritage player Dion Cools, who is of Belgian-Malaysian parentage, has added some much-needed steel to the backline, judging by how the FC Midtjylland defender had combined with Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak, Matthew Davies and La’Vere Lawrence Corbin-Ong to restrict the UAE to just a 1-0 lead until the 83rd minute last week.

However, the national team’s almost non-existent midfield and equally blunt strike force must be worrying factors for Cheng Hoe, who will surely have to come up with a different strategy and more effective tactics for the game against the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup champions.

It is hoped that the national players had used the past week or so since their loss to the UAE to work on improving the team’s understanding and togetherness, both on and off the field, so that they can show their true form on Friday, most notably, the two naturalised players – striker Guilherme De Paula and midfielder Liridon Krasniqi.

The duo both failed to shine in the game against the UAE last week.

But they were not the only ones who failed to step up. Flankers Muhammad Safawi Rasid and Mohamadou Sumareh also seemed rusty in that game and will have to raise their game a notch or two when Malaysia take on Vietnam on Friday and Thailand on June 15.

It is also hoped that the return of Brendan Gan, who had to sit out the game against the UAE after receiving two yellow cards during the qualifying rounds, would make the midfield engine purring again and help link play between the defence and attack.

As long as there is still hope of Malaysia qualifying for the Asian Cup Finals from Group G, the Harimau Malaya must forget their poor past record against Vietnam and focus on giving their best on Friday as there’s no better time to end their dismal run against Hang Seo’s men.

Come on, Harimau Malaya. Fight for the badge! 


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