Courageous Malaysia produced a gritty show in downing Yemen in the Asian Cup qualifier. And they can be better by working more on the defensive aspect.
BY MUSTAPHA "EL LOCO" KAMARUDDIN
BRAVE show indeed by 10-man Malaysia who beat Yemen 2-1 in their final Asian Cup Group D qualifying match at Tahnoun Mohamed in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.
Malaysia may have failed to end up as the best third-placed team for a spot in the Finals in Australia next year but the win should give them some kind of confidence for future assignments.
This was interim coach Ong Kim Swee's second game since taking over from K. Rajagopal -- after that 0-0 draw with the Philippines at Selayang Stadium last Saturday.
It must be said, however, the Malaysians were less convincing against the young Yemen outfit compared to the display against the Philippines.
Perhaps because it was a competitive match with more pressure involved compared to the friendly.
Malaysia were down to 10 men as early as the 10th minute when centreback Amiridzwan Taj Tajuddin, being the last man at that moment, was sent off for tackling pacy attacker Saddam Hussein.
However, Yemen failed to take advantage of this good opportunity to take the lead when Wahid Al Khyat's poor attempt was saved by Malaysia's hero of the night Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.
Kelantan star Khairul Fahmi also executed at least three superb saves to deny the frustrated Yemenis, who struck the woodwork twice as well.
Malaysia should not have suffered this misfortune of having one player less so early in the match as the zestful Yemenis started the contest aggressively.
Yemen, with Saddam Hussein the most dangerous, were given a lot of space to exploit the shaky Malaysian defence led by skipper Aidil Zafuan Radzak.
One of the reasons for this was the midfield was not functioning that well, losing the ball cheaply, allowing the Yemenis took control of the department.
The Malaysians were also finding it hard to hold the ball for a longer time.
Safiq did not have a good game against Yemen.
Safiq Rahim, for instance, had a rather poor game if compared to the one against the Philippines and did not help much to assist the team.
And before the Malaysians knew it, they conceded that penalty.
Defensive aspect is one area which Kim Swee has to work on to make the team better in preparations for future tournaments.
He already has this reliable and commanding centreback Aidil, who had a good game on Wednesday.
And one wonders why Kim Swee did not play Fadhli Shas in the heart of defence from the start. He was better and more composed compared to Amiridzwan, the man he replaced.
Credit must be given to Malaysia though, as they were effective with counter-attacks whenever they had the chance to do so.
Striker Safee Sali had a reasonably good game and it was because of him that Malaysia had the freekick in the 16th minute which resulted in a goal by Amri Yahyah.
The freekick was executed by midfielder Hafiz Kamal which nervy Yemen goalkeeper Mohammed Ibrahim Ayyash fumbled and an alert Amri gleefully headed the ball into the empty net.
It is interesting to note Malaysia realised their opponents were not that good in defending set-pieces.
And they took advantage of this weakness by scoring the winner in the 78th minute through substitute Ahmad Fakri Saarani, who connected superbly via his side foot after a freekick delivered from the left by Nazrin Nawi.
Yemen had earlier scored the equaliser in the 59th minute through Mohammed Al Sarori, who finished off a great move.
All said, it was yet another refreshing performance from the Tigers.
And it is also interesting to point out Kim Swee knows the importance of world rankings.
Prior to the match, he reportedly said Malaysia must work hard to win the match in the UAE for this purpose.
Mustapha 'El Loco' Kamaruddin is an experienced sports journalist who is crazy about football. He has been following football, both at local and international scenes for over two decades. He is also a columnist with The Malay Mail.