Both Malaysia and Yemen come into this game with zero points so far, and some rotten recent form behind them. A win is necessary if either team plans to qualify for the Asian Cup
Jasuli - Zafuan- Fadhli - Azmi
Wan Zack - Rahim - Shaari - Azamuddin
Sadeq- Al Zubairi - Abdurabu - Fuad
Al Khyat - Baleid - A. Al Worafi - Boqshan
Al Hagri - K. Mohammed
While Malaysia fans and players alike must be feeling pretty low after four consecutive defeats by a combined score 11-1, it perhaps is nothing compared to the recent struggles that have beset Yemen. Since the end of June 2012 they have lost 11 consecutive matches, only scoring three goals along the way, and not netting at all in their last five outings. With Malaysia and Yemen both on such poor runs, and having lost their opening Asian Cup qualifiers 2-0 to Qatar and Bahrain respectively, the need for a positive result is crucial for both. If either side is to make a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2015 competition in Australia, then a win here is absolutely imperative.
For the Malayan Tigers, while Sunday’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia was largely disappointing, there were signs of life in the second half before two late goals killed any comeback. However frustration with recent results and the management of Datuk K. Rajagopal are becoming more and more apparent. Since the defeat Rajagopal has come in for renewed criticism from Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Vice President of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and local sports critic Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim. Surely a damaging result here would raise the very real chance of the once supportive FAM considering a change of head coach.
The home side are likely to have Wan Zack Haikal available after his recovery from a groin injury and while he may not yet be 100% match fit, I expect him to be called upon from the start here. Much maligned captain Safiq Rahim is also likely to be recalled into the centre of midfield, possibly replacing Kelantan’s Badhri Radzi, after his second half goal scoring appearance against the Saudis. Despite the poor first half performance last time out, it is unlikely that Rajagopal while make wholesale changes in such a vital game, but it would not be a shock if Zubir Azmi and Aidil Zafuan were bought into a leaky defence.
As for Yemen, their Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet also has several problems, however they are of a slightly different nature. The team has no sponsors, very little government assistance, are not permitted to play fixtures inside Yemen for security reasons and the country went eight months without a functioning league before it recently restarted. Due to their meagre budget, Yemen were not able to play any friendly games ahead of this fixture and their coach has commented that “youth development is very basic, our players are ‘street footballers’ and learned their skills by themselves.”
The Yemen team are likely to be very different to their neighbours Saudi Arabia, having less tall and powerful players, instead filled with smaller skilful players. Both Hussein Ahmed Al-Ghazi and Akram Al-Selwi, who started last time out against Bahrain are unavailable here, but the team is boosted by the return of forward Ayman Al-Haqri who has been playing regularly at Bahraini club Al-Najma. Due to both teams chronic inability to score goals, I’m predicting a nervous low scoring game here, in a match neither team can afford to lose.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
Yemen manager, Tom Saintfiet (pictured), became the youngest ever manager in Belgian football history when he took his first job at 24, after his career was ended by injury.
Saintfiet is no stranger to international football having previously coached Namibia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.
Yemen last qualified for the Asian Cup in 1976, as South Yemen, while Malaysia have been part of the competition on three occasions, in 1976, 1980 and 2007.
Malaysia sit above Yemen in the FIFA world rankings at 164, while Yemen are six places below in 170.
Yemen and Malaysia have met twice before. In September 1990 Yemen won 1-0, while in 2010 Malaysia got their revenge by also winning by a goal to nil.