Malaysia need the real Safee against Thailand

Now that his future has been sorted out, Malaysian striker Safee Sali has no excuse to misfire anymore, argues Christy Simson of ESPN Star Sports

By Christy Simson

Will the real Safee Sali please step forward? And preferably in time for Malaysia’s Suzuki Cup semi-final first leg showdown against Thailand on Sunday night.

The man who scored 5 goals in Malaysia’s victorious Suzuki Cup campaign of 2 years ago has been off target and off colour this time around. The 28-year-old could, and should have scored 3 or 4 against Laos, but a tap-in consolation was all he finished with.

In the big game against Indonesia the Tigers’ number 10 appeared to lack confidence and was well wide off the mark more than once. Malaysia have been a good enough side to get through to this stage with Safee misfiring, but they need him back against the best side in the tournament.

Safee would be the first to admit that his head has not been in a ‘good space’ while speculation dragged on about a move from Pelita Arema FC in Indonesia back home to Johor. But on Wednesday that was all put to rest when he signed a one-year loan deal the ambitious Johor club, now re-named Darul Takzim FC. “This is the best thing to do for now,” he said. “I do not want my football career to be affected due to the conflict in Indonesian football that has been going on for so long.”

Safee has not been the only one to be distracted. Only last week his strike partner Norshahrul Idlan Talaha finally got his release from Kelantan. He too will play at Johor in the 2013 season, along with fellow internationals Safiq Rahim, Aidil Zafuan, Azmi Muslim, Zaquan Adha and Muslim Ahmad at Malaysia’s new Manchester City.

Coach K. Rajagopal’s Malaysia sides have always been highly organized, the emphasis on a sound defensive, with goals coming almost as a happy bonus. I believe his only chance against Thailand is to go all out for goals, in the second half of the first leg, in front of a packed house at Bukit Jalil. Providing of course that Malaysia are not a goal down at half-time. It means that Norshahrul, Safee and Wan Zack Haikal will need to be at their sharpest.

The idea of trying purely to contain the tournament’s best player Teerasil Dangda for 180 minutes – 90 of those in Bangkok’s Supachalasai stadium, is difficult to contemplate. We all saw what Teerasil is capable of when he scored a high quality hat-trick against Myanmar. The man described by Thailand’s coach Winfried Schaefer, as the best player in Asia, not just South East Asia, is due another big game.

There is no doubt that Malaysia have good players in key positions. Aidil Zafuan is hugely reliable in the centre of defense. Mahalli Jasuli has been exceptional going forward on the right wing, especially against Indonesia. Safiq Rahim is creative in that midfield and brilliant with a dead ball. And then of course there is the goal-scoring quality of Norshahrul and Safee, who do not have the excuse of an uncertain future to fall back on.

Catch Christy Simson on the LIVE coverage of the AFF Suzuki Cup when Thailand takes on Malaysia on Sunday 9 Dec on STAR Sports at 7.30pm.