Although the 24-year-old wingback has been a revelation for his club Selangor this season, his performance in the previous match against Saudi Arabia for Malaysia was disappointing. It is somewhat understandable, given the huge gap between the two countries’ quality. Yemen however is a team that should be on par with Malaysia, and this Friday, Mahali is expected to return to his usual attacking and defending best. Expect him to be let loose to wreck havoc in the Yemeni defence.
With one of Malaysia’s defenders habitually joining the attacks, Yemen will do well to try and take advantage of the occasional gap left behind through swift counter attacks. To this end, they should be glad that they have the service of Akram Selwi who can play in front as well as a central or left midfield. The Al-Hilal Al-Sahili player should also pay heed to the home team’s eagerness to attack, when playing in front of their fans, and be ready when the Malaysia defence slips up, which will happen, and will happen often.
Despite being a core player in Dato’ K. Rajagopal’s formation, the national captain’s performance has been criticised by many sections of the crowd. He was uncharacteristically dropped to the bench at the start of the last game, an action that was said to be a move to appease Rajagopal’s critics. But when he came on in the second half, he seemed to succeed in silencing them by scoring the only goal for Malaysia. Rajagopal’s strong preference of fielding his core players, coupled with Safiq’s goal, means that Safiq is likely to start against Yemen. If he does, he is most probably going to try to further shut his critics up by being the reliable engine of the midfield, and a support striker to the two forwards that he once was.
His Yemeni counterpart is Akram Al-Worafi, who is one of the key players of the Yemen national team himself, and has been a mainstay of various Yemen youth national teams ever since his participation in the 2002 AFC Under-17 Championship which saw them emerge as runners-up. The 26-year-old must be stopped by the home team if they want to stop the visitors’ attacking chances.
Among Rajagopal’s greatest concerns at the moment is the national squad’s dismal firepower. With the exclusion of the prolific Safee Sali due to a niggling injury, Norshahrul is expected to shoulder the attacking responsibilities in this match, although still more as a provider rather than as an out-and-out striker himself. His ad hoc partnership with Amri Yahyah seemed awkward in the last game, so Norshahrul will probably be paired up with either Ashaari Shamsuddin, or Abdul Hadi Yahya who both featured in last Sunday’s thrashing. If his eventual partner proves to be ineffective, he might have to work his magic and score himself, something that he last did for Malaysia at the end of last year.
However, this means having to get past Yemen’s custodian Salem Awad, who was the Omani League’s 2010 Top Goalkeeper. Both Yemen and Malaysia are now occupying the two bottom spots in Group D, and Salem will want to help his team win this away match, or at least nick a draw, by keeping the ball out.