BY OOI KIN FAI Follow on Twitter
After the bombshell that was the national team call-up announcement that precludes Khairul Fahmi from the squad for the first time, it's time to ask who Datuk Ong Kim Swee should select to start in the international friendly against Philippines on Wednesday.
Throughout his tenure as the national team head coach, Ong has always relied on Khairul whenever he's fit enough to play. It's a double blow for Khairul, having seen his place in the Kelantan team being usurped by Ramadhan Hamid in their last few matches, he will have to watch from afar while someone else takes up a position that is normally reserved for him.
The candidates to replaces Khairul for the upcoming fixtures are Perak's Hafizul Hakim, Selangor's Khairulazhan Khalid and Felda United's Farizal Harun. The former two were part of the squad for the disastrous 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup while Farizal is still uncapped at international level.
If based purely from the statistics of all three players in this season's Super League, Khairulazhan is head and shoulder the one with the better record of having only conceded 0.6 goals per match. While the numbers for the other two stands at - Hafizul (1.6 goals/match) and Farizal (1.4 goals/match).
Age wise, Farizal is the oldest one but while he has more game experience compared to the other two, what he lacks are the variety of game experiences, having never played at this level before. Between Khairulazhan and Hafizul, the former Pahang keeper is four years older and undoubtedly has more experience than his younger challenger.
At this level, often times goalkeepers cannot be differentiated through their shot-stopping qualities as most likely all three are on par on that regards. However, working and the familiarity as a unit with the rest of defence is one quality that defines how suitable the selection is.
With the majority of the defenders being players that have played together in the previous clubs or existing clubs, Khairulazhan and Hafizul has the advantage over Farizal in terms of the understanding with the unit in front of them.
Last but not least is the consideration of the style of the opponents. With Philippines players arguably ones with the bigger physical qualities than Malaysia, the ability of the keeper to take charge of his penalty box from an aerial perspective is likely to be aspect which Ong will based his selection from.
If there's any advantage to Farizal, would be the fact that the match is being played on an artificial turf and he will be more used to that, seeing that Felda's home ground uses the same kind of turf.
As things stands, Khairulazhan looks likely to be entrusted with the number 1 job but time will tell if that means a permanent role for him if and when Khairul Fahmi regains his place at club and international level.