The stage is set for the first installment of the titanic clash between Malaysia and Vietnam at Bukit Jalil National Stadium that will decide which among these two nations will be crowned AFF champions for only the second time in their history.
The route taken by both team to reach the showpiece final couldn't be any more stark with Vietnam practically strolling their way to this stage but Malaysia stuttered along the way but eventually warmed up to the task and can now strive to match the efforts of the 2010 team.
Going to Hanoi to play at My Dinh Stadium in the second leg will be a tall order for Harimau Malaya, which is why in order for them to have some measure of hope, Tan Cheng Hoe and his boys will have to strive to take a first leg lead.
Goal looks at what needs to happen in order for it to be a successful night for Malaysia.
Starting on the front foot and put the pressure on Vietnam
Against Thailand at the same venue, Malaysia got off to a fantastic start and immediately from the kick off, were putting their opponent on the back foot. That did two things for the team. First of which is that it roused an already boisterous crowd to a whole new level and secondly, it made the opponent timid. Milovan Rajevac explained as much after the match that seeing how the first period of the first half transpired, it made him sat his team deep to defend.
The same could occur on Tuesday, even more so that Park is well-known to be a coach that prioritises not conceding as the foremost important target to achieve in a match. It might even be the case that Park will be looking to "park a bus", which could well be forced into a deeper position should Malaysia start in a very aggressive manner. Out of the six matches that Vietnam have been involved in thus far, they have only had more possession in two matches which was against Laos and Cambodia, which goes to show the coach's inclination.
Break the resolute 3-man defence
Park has stuck with his 3-man backline throughout the tournament that sees Que Ngoc Hai and Do Duy Manh to the left and right of Tran Dinh Trong. Both Ngoc Hai and Duy Manh are very physical in their approach and combined, they easily snuffed out Shahrel Fikri in the group stage match played in Hanoi almost a month ago. Dinh Trong acts as the security behind the more aggressive duo, looking to sweep whenever one of his partners slip up.
In the final, Zaquan Adha is expected to start but if he's to be up front alone, then it is unlikely that he will make much headway as he will constantly be double-teamed whether that is Ngoc Hai and Dinh Trong or Duy Manh and Dinh Trong. Norshahrul Idlan Talaha must be pushed further forward and closer to Zaquan not only to support but to take some numerical advantage away from Vietnam's defence. The runs from deep of Syamer Kutty Abba may also forced one of the centre backs to come out of their zone and thus cause chaos at the back.
Beware of the quick transitions on the counter
This is where Malaysia failed in the first encounter between the two teams in the competition this year. Vietnam used the quick movement off the counter attack to good effect and took advantage of Malaysia's poor positioning and scored twice using the same tactic. That match saw Vietnam purposely targeting the area between Malaysia's right back and centre back, with a brand new partnership expected to feature there in the final (Amirul Azhan and Irfan Zakaria), Tan Cheng Hoe will have to drum it into the players to constantly be aware of the space.
The quick transition can also be stopped from the source with the likes of Luong Xuan Truong and Nguyen Quang Hai to be targeted and denied time and space on the ball to spray passes forward. The roles of Syamer Kutty and Akram Mahinan will be crucial for this and their concentration levels must be maintained throughout the 90 minutes to ensure that neither Vietnam players escape their attention.
Pray for nerveless display
Like it or not, Cheng Hoe will have to make changes for the final. With Syahmi suspended and both Syazwan Andik and Aidil Zafuan still training separately from the rest of the team on the morning of the day before the match, unless both makes a rapid recovery in 24 hours, their place in the team look to be taken by somebody else. Irfan Zakaria came into the fray against Thailand and produced a jittery performance.
Nazirul Naim also started nervously but improved progressively against Thailand and is less of a worry. The bigger concern would be on Amirul and this final being his first appearance in the competition. However, with Shahrul Saad in the starting XI, playing alongside two of his Perak team mates could help ease Amirul into the thick of things. Vietnam will pounce on the first sign of weakness from Malaysia and it is important that Amirul is provided plenty of support from Mohamadou Sumareh or one of the midfielders.
Black and yellow wall must be there
In the 2017 SEA Games final because of ticketing issues and the Malaysia team were robbed of the presence of the Ultras Malaya who have pushed the team on since the start of the tournament. The same ticketing troubles has propped up once again with many complaining that they couldn't get hold of tickets for the final. One has to hope that the Ultras at least managed to get theirs.
There's no doubt that their singing and support throughout the semi-final played a big part in helping Malaysia secure a good result against Thailand in the first leg and the same is very much needed against Vietnam. A cacophony of noise is generated by the thousands sitting together in the stands and the aura of it all could have a huge impact on the minds of young Vietnamese players who may not have been in a similar situation before.
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