Malaysia are going into this match as underdogs against the Middle Eastern giants, but they still cannot expect to simply play a defending game. Their attacking responsibilities are going to be shouldered by Norshahrul, who is likely to be paired up with veteran striker Amri Yahyah, instead of his 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup partner Safee Sali who has yet to recover from his injury. Although he has been slightly off-form for Johor Darul Takzim, he is still one of top picks for the national team, and will be eager to perform well. Going against a much better team means that Norshahrul must avoid wasting the few chances that are going come his way in the match. He will be looking to gel with Amri Yahyah as quickly as possible.
Whereas for Saudi Arabia, they would want to take the chance of going against the minnows by testing out their fringe players, or to field their strongest team to inflict as much damage as possible. This means that that their captain and top defender, Osama Hawsawi will get to join in the attack. His strength in the air would help them nail the set pieces. The Malayan Tigers will have a tough time handling the Saudi strikers, and the occasional foray from Osama will definitely be a cause for concern.
The technical superiority that Saudi Arabia have over the Malaysians means that Malaysia will have to rely on the speed of their wingers during counter-attacks, over their ability to maintain possession in the central midfield position. This means relying on live wire Pahang winger Azamuddin Akil. He is expected to feature in this match after youngster Wan Zack Haikal had to pull out after getting injured during practice recently. Although he is rarely picked to start by the coach, he has a knack of scoring for the national team, as proven in last year’s friendly against Singapore and in the recent AFF Cup match against Indonesia. He is frequently positioned on the right flank, which also means that he is likely to play in front of the lethal wingback Mahali Jasuli. The both of them need to overcome their nerves in order to slip pass the physically more intimidating Saudi defenders, to give Malaysia a fighting chance.
The midfield maestro of Saudi Arabia, Taisir Al Jassim who also plays for Ahli Jeddah will want to pounce on Malaysia’s problematic midfield by stopping their attacks before they can even take place, and make sure that the ball remains in their possession most of the time.
It is not too presumptuous to predict that most of the play will take place in Malaysia’s final third, given the rift in quality between the two sides. The Malaysian defence will have to dig deep within themselves to get something out of the game, or at least to avoid a trouncing by their opponents. Fadhli Shas will shoulder a bulk of these responsibilities, especially with Aidil Zafuan out of the picture due to a recent injury. He is going to have to make sure that he is at his very best to neutralise the threat posed by the Saudi forwards.
One of them will be Naif Hazazi, who is definitely raring to prove himself to Saudi coach Juan Ramon by scoring this Sunday. He had been dropped from the national squad for awhile after a dip in his performance and a second lease at international football will not be squandered by the 24-year-old Al-Ittihad striker.