On matchday 2 of the 2017 SEA Games men's football tournament, one of the most-anticipated match ups of the competition is set to take place. Hosts Malaysia U22 will take on rivals Singapore U22 on Wednesday at the Shah Alam Stadium, with both sides having recorded differing results in their respective first matches.
The Young Tigers won their campaign opener against Brunei on Monday, but was made to work hard before they could seal a 2-1 win. The slim margin against the minnows tells a lot about what is missing from the performance of Datuk Ong Kim Swee's men; namely their poor finishing and lack of team cohesion.
Whereas for Singapore, despite losing 2-0 to Myanmar on Monday, lost to one of the best sides in the competition. Richard Tardy's charges too managed to put up a spirited challenge and created chances, but failed to make them count.
But judging by their recent records, it is the hosts who will go into the match with the advantage, apart from the home support. Ong's men have played in 11 matches against other countries' junior sides this year, recording five wins, one draw and four defeats.
The Young Lions meanwhile lost two matches and won one in their 2018 AFC U23 Championship qualification group recently, while in the Dubai International Cup earlier this year, they lost all four of their matches. They played two friendlies each against Qatar and India, winning one and losing three. In a friendly against Myanmar, they won 3-1.
Their last encounter was in the Dubai International Cup which Malaysia also participated in, with the Tigers edging the Lions 3-1. The last time they met in the SEA Games was in the 2013 SEA Games, with Singapore defeating Malaysia 2-1 in the bronze medal match.
On Wednesday, Ong is likely to rely on winger Syahmi Safari, Safawi Rasid, as well as Syafiq Ahmad, who had a relatively quiet night on Monday. Defender Matthew Davies who shined against Brunei, is set to miss the match due to an injury picked up in the clash.
Tardy meanwhile is expected to rely on Fandi brothers forward Ikhsan and defender Irfan, captain Shahrin Saberin and Hami Syahin. The Lions performed well in their campaign opener despite the result, so Tardy may stick to the same line-up against Malaysia.
On Wednesday, more than bragging rights are on the line between the two rivals. A defeat will mean an early exit for the Lions, while a win for the hosts will give them the morale boost sorely needed ahead of their third group match, against Myanmar.