Key Battles: Bahrain vs Malaysia

Bahrain and Malaysia meet again this Friday for their Asian Cup qualifier, and Goal looks at three key battles that will most likely decide the outcome of the match.

Going up against a Malaysia side that have only scored two goals in their last four games, 32-year-old  defender Abdulla Marzooqi should be forgiven for thinking that he is going to be facing an easier time this Friday. However, the fact that one of the goals was scored in their 1-1 draw in Malaysia should make him wary of the threat posed by the Malaysia forwards. As the earlier match proved, although they were able to outmuscle the Malaysian attackers and keep out their aerial attacks, it was one moment of pure technical brilliance that snatched away Bahrain's precious slim away lead.

It was Norshahrul's technical brilliance that produced Malaysia's equaliser in their first encounter, and  he has time and again had the nation's hopes pinned on him, sometimes a little too unfairly when a lot of his teammates have been playing poorly. In that match, he had to pick up the midfield's slack, practically collecting the ball from the middle of the park himself before launching into his iconic solo runs that more of than not were thwarted by the lack of support. It is not easy being depended on,especially when expected to do so without much help from the teammates, but Norshahrul has to remember that he only needs that one moment of brilliance, when everything falls right into place, to produce a goal for his team and keep Malaysia in the running for the Asian Cup qualification.


The last encounter had probably shown Bahrain their opponents' weakest link, the midfield. Bahrain outflanked that part of the field without much trouble, and when Malaysia had possession, they would fail to send anything useful their strikers' way. With this in mind, 28-year-old midfielder Faouzi Aaish must try and cut off every single one of Malaysia's passess to the front, and to turn himself into an extra attacker when his team attack, just to put their opponents in a disarray. He has the ability and mindset to do it, as he has scored for his team a number of times already.

If the Malaysian midfield is the weakest link of the team, then its midfielder Safiq Rahim is perhaps the  weakest link in the already weak chain. He has failed to hold the team together, and supply quality deliveries to the attackers in past matches, which reflects poorly on the national team headcoach K. Rajagopal's selection. Nothing much can be told for the Darul Takzim player, except to improve his game, recapture his form and deserve his place in the team, as he will almost likely be selected for the upcoming  match, despite his very poor form. Only then can Malaysia have a fighting chance of overcoming Bahrain,  Qatar, and Yemen, their next opponents in the Asian Cup qualification.


At the age of 27, Ismail is already a veteran of the national team, and has scored in every other game that he has played in for Bahrain. He will likely be called upon by head coach Gabriel Calderon for Friday's match, and he must make sure that his team not only win against the visitors, but also win by a large margin. They are only separated from second-placed Qatar by a one-point margin, and Qatar have the superior goal difference. Should anything untoward happen in their remaining three matches, Qatar will replace them at the top, and by then it will be hard for Bahrain to retake the top spot. Thus Ismail must  keep firing on all cylinders until the final whistle, score as many goals as he can this Friday if he is selected, even when Bahrain are leading Malaysia comfortably. He must also keep in mind that in their opponents' last match, a friendly against Kuwait that resulted in a 3-0 drubbing this week, all of Kuwait's goals were scored courtesy of very poor defending by the Malaysians, another incentive for Ismail to try to extend his scoring record for the national team.

At the heart of that poor defending against Kuwait was centreback Amirizdwan Taj, who was made a steady  inclusion in the squad due to his strong performance for his club, ATM. He must forget his dismal outing for the Malayan Tigers against Kuwait earlier this week, in order to provide protection against Bahrain. After all, his aerial command at the back and his overall performance when Bahrain and Malaysia last met in October were praised, and Bahrain's goal in the match came from a beautiful long-range shot taken outside his defensive zone. He must do better in Manama this Friday, and help Malaysia avoid concede any goals against the home side.

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