Young combative midfielder, Gary Robbat arguably stole the limelight in both of the friendly matches as he put in commanding displays in the centre of midfield against established Premier League stars such as Alex Song and Yaya Toure. He bravely disrupted their plays with strong crunching tackles and distributed the ball well with great composure. It is clear that amidst the dark clouds surrounding the injury to national team regular K.Gurusamy, he has become our silver lining and it is now safe to say that he has staked his claim for a place in the national team setup. Another youngster that is worth a mention is Sabah hotshot Rozaimi Abdul Rahman. Though he was played out of position against Arsenal, his deft left foot touches were clear for all to see. Playing against City, he was given the chance to play upfront late in the second half and he showed that he was brave enough to run at the much bigger and stronger Stefan Savic.
2. Our defensive strength have largely improved
Although we suffered defeats, our defensive work have largely improved with Aidil Zafuan marshalling the defence and Gary Robbat dropping back to protect the back four. The first half display against Arsenal was exemplary with our compact defence impenetrable to the likes of Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho. The defence worked well as a unit and did not lose its shape. Chamakh in particular cut a forlorn figure as he was marked out of the game by Aidil Zafuan. In the game against City, Gary Robbat proved vital as he performed the “water carrier” duties commendably. It is also important to note here that Farizal Marlias performed admirably in place of the injured Khairul Fahmi. He showed good command of the penalty area that has been particularly missing from his game all these years.
3. Malaysian Premier League players stepped up and did well
The fine performers in both of these games were from the second tier of Malaysian football, the Malaysian Premier League teams; Aidil Zafuan, Azamuddin Akil, and Azmi Muslim evidencing that the standard of football between our two leagues is not that different. Aidil played one of his best games of his career against Arsenal as he put in perfectly timed challenges all night while his teammate at Armed Forces, Azmi Muslim, scored a memorable screamer past the hapless Vito Mannone. Winger Azamuddin, or Alex as he is affectionately known to his fans, has been a talisman for Pahang all season long with an amazing tally of 14 goals. He was a livewire on the right wing against Arsenal and his goal against City epitomized his strength and determination as he held off Pablo Zabaleta before drilling a shot past Eirik Johansen.
4. We should have more competitive international matches
Matches against English Premier League giants like Manchester City and Arsenal undoubtedly excelled in bringing in huge financial revenues and to some extent will help prepare our boys for the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup. However, looking at the bigger picture, Malaysia is currently ranked at 157 in the current FIFA rankings which is even below the likes of Bangladesh and Nepal! Statistics show that our rank has been on a steady decrease since January this year. What we really need is to have more of competitive international matches that will actually help gradually improve our ranking.
5. We are in good shape to defend the AFF Suzuki Cup
Generally, our boys should be lauded for their gallant effort against established Premier League stars. There are marked improvements in all areas notably the defence and the midfield and our boys looked good value to defend our AFF Suzuki Cup title come this December. However, the most impressive attributes displayed by Malayan Tigers these past two weeks were determination and bravery. Lest we forget, Malaysia has been drawn in the so called “Group of Death” alongside our main rivals, Indonesia and Singapore. It will definitely require our Malayan Tigers to maintain the same level of team spirit to outplay these two teams.