Midfield a big worry for OKS ahead of Kyrgyzstan opener

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Baddrol Bakhtiar, Nik Akif, Malaysia U23
Lack of options in central midfield is giving Ong Kim Swee sleepless nights ahead of back-to-back matches against Kyrgyzstan and South Korea.

It's four more days until the Malaysia U23 open their Asian Games campaign with a match against Kyrgyzstan on Aug 15 that will be quickly followed the toughest match in the group against South Korea. Putting aside the furore and shambles that ended the friendly against United Arab Emirates, Ong Kim Swee's have a first XI that could possibly make it past the group stage.

To qualify via being second in the group is a possibility but to qualify via being the best third place team in the competition looks like a very viable aim to achieve. But like so many teams, a lot is dependent and a healthy starting XI because of the big drop in quality between them and the ones sitting on the bench.

For Ong, problem is two-fold in that it's not only quality but the quantity as well. Nor Azam Azih's snub at the Asian Games and Syamer Kutty Abba's withdrawal due to injury has hit hard on the Malaysian squad. 

It means that Baddrol Bakhtiar, Nik Akif Syahiran and Danial Amier are the only recognised central midfielders in the squad. Syahmi Safari could also operate there but it's not a position that he plays for his club side week in, week out. With Danial still on the mend, Baddrol and Nik Akif are the only option for Ong for at least the first game.

"That (midfield) is the most worrying position. We know that we are playing two games in three days. I only have Nik Akif and Baddrol Bakhtiar in the centre with Syahmi Safari who has played there for Selangor."

"They are the only three players who can play centrally. Danial (Amier) may not be able to recover for our first game. I hope that nothing happens to these three players because that would wreck our planning in the middle," said Ong on the squad situation.

Another impact the lack option have on the team is that it denies Ong the opportunity to play around with the formation. It's a flat back two because neither Baddrol nor Nik Akif works as a solitary defensive midfielder.

With the duo having to balance between supporting the defence and attack, a lot will rest on the individual strengths of those two departments. Luckily for Ong, those will not be a major headache as Malaysia are very well stocked there.

Having proven themselves at the AFC U23 Championship and then in the friendly against UAE, for Ong and the U23 to do well in the Asian Games is not a far-fetched dream and it can all start with good performance against Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday.