|By Falah Abdullah
“The Malaysian number two was very dangerous; he created so many dangerous moves. So, I needed to change the tactics to stop him.” Those were the exact words of Yemen’s much travelled national coach, Tom Saintfiet, who was in awe of Malaysia’s very own Cafu, Mahali Jasuli.
The Belgian’s post match comments validated the sentiments shared by arguably all of the Malayan Tigers fans; that we have in our hands a player with the rare ability to change the outcome of a game. Here’s a scary thought, he’s only 23 years of age!
So, what did he do against Yemen to warrant this admiration?
Well, what separates Mahali Jasuli from his teammates is his unwavering bravery. Eleven minutes was all it took for Yemen’s danger man Aiman Salleh to shock the Malaysian defence with an aplomb finish.
Under-fire skipper, Safiq Rahim tried his best to inspire the team with his customary “Hollywood passes”, but he was up against the forces of nature as it was pouring cats and dogs. Meanwhile tricky wingers Wan Zack Haikal and Azamuddin Akil looked out of sorts to say the least.
Hence, the Selayang born Mahali stepped up to take the initiative and run at the unsuspecting Yemeni defence.
He ghosted past his markers time and time again before delivering delightful crosses only to be frustrated by the lacklustre finishing of his teammates. As if that was not enough, the former Harimau Muda 'A' skipper took matters into his own hands before his excellent solo effort was saved by Yemen’s custodian Salem Abdullah.
At this point, Saintfiet must have been scratching his head to figure out what had hit his charges.
Mahali’s wonderful assist of Azamuddin Akil’s goal had a sense of déjà vu to it as it was almost identical to Malaysia’s first goal against eternal rivals Indonesia in the previous AFF Suzuki Cup campaign.
He left his two markers for dead before some fortune helped him pick out the unmarked Azamuddin who was left with the easiest of tasks; a simple tap in. The whole stadium erupted with joy.
Not one to rest on his laurels, he continued his high intensity performance switching play seamlessly from left to right throughout the match. This sustained pressure changed the outlook of the opponents who were forced to sit back in their own half.
Was he playing as a right back? Left winger? Right winger? For me, he was given the freedom to roam by Datuk K.Rajagopal. Such was the confidence that the beleaguered coach had in his young defender.
However, we are unlucky not to have world-renowned London based match data company Opta to cover the match and answer the burning question on everyone’s mind; what was the distance covered by Mahali that night?
For a player of his tender age, he showcased incredible leadership skills which rubbed off on the rest of the team.
The only chink in his seemingly invincible armour is that his eagerness to provide attacking width at times left gaping holes in our defence. We were fortunate to have Khairul Fahmi back at his gravity-defying self again that night.
With time, he will eradicate this Achilles’ heel of his game.
The future certainly looks bright for Mahali Jasuli and it is not farfetched for me to say that he is poised to lead the Malayan Tigers sooner rather than later.