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Goal looks at the players that will decide the opening fixture of the 2013 Merdeka Tournament between Causeway rivals, Malaysia U23 and Singapore U23

The Pestabola Merdeka  or Merdeka Tournament kicks off on Saturday with the host, Malaysia facing up against old enemy, Singapore. The 2013 edition sees the tournament returns after a 4-year hiatus. The competition is an under-23 tournament and Goal assesses the players that decide the opening fixture of the tournament.


ROZAIMI RAHMAN
VS AFIQ YUNOS
 

The 21-year-old Rozaimi hails from Sabah and it was his exploits for his state team which secured him a move to Harimau Muda. The lanky forward grabbed all the headlines after scoring 10 goals in the U22 Asian Cup qualification stage. A threat in the air because of his height, Rozaimi also possesses good skills with both his feet, so it won’t be easy to just cut off his aerial supply. Afiq Yunos is likely to be his direct opponent for the match on Saturday. The Courts Young Lions (CYL) centre-back will hold the fort for Singapore U23 in the absence of Safuwan Baharudin. His pace and strength will hold him in good stead against Rozaimi but he will have to cut out his lapses of concentration to ensure that Rozaimi doesn’t sneak away unmarked.




WAN ZACK
VS SHAKIR HAMZAH
 

Malaysia’s very own export to the J-League, albeit in the third division of the Japanese League. Wan Zack Haikal suffered an ankle injury after just playing one match for FC Ryukyu, but is now fit and raring to go. The winger has in his locker, speed and trickery on the ball. He is rarely fazed and that willingness to run directly at defenders is not a trait that defenders like to face. That will be the job of Shakir Hamzah, one of the vital cogs in LionsXII’s success in the winning the Malaysian Super League (MSL). The defender is no slouch on the speed scale but will have to fully utilise the experience he earned playing in the M-League to stop Wan Zack. The other way around, his overlapping efforts cannot be underestimated. Their battle up and down the flanks will be one to watch.

NIK SHAHRUL VS FARIS RAMLI
 
This battle sees two players who will reacquaint themselves at an international level, after facing up against each other in the Malaysian Super League (MSL). Kelantan’s Nik Shahrul and LionsXII’s Faris Ramli will be familiar with each other’s game, though the last time they faced each other, it was back in March at the Jalan Besar Stadium. The right-back, Nik Shahrul, has appeared for the Red Warriors 27 times this season meanwhile Faris has only played 10 matches for the Lions. Faris will be hoping to set up Sahil with goal-scoring chances and Nik will have to cut out the supply from wide positions and not just hope that his centre-backs will get to the crosses first. Just like the battle between Wan Zack and Shakir, this battle is all about the ability to keep up with the pace and see whose concentration drops first.

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