Monday, 14 August 2017
The six time gold medal winners and hosts open their campaign tonight to regain gold against Brunei at the Shah Alam Stadium tonight.
Judging from the draw, it does seem as if Malaysia has an obligation to qualify for the final, at least, to appease the local fans as well as to ensure some form of continuity after the glory of the AFC U23 Qualifiers in Bangkok.
Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore will look at their matches against Brunei as must wins with the biggest score line possible to get a high goal difference, but Brunei will not be easy to break down.
Malaysia will probably be without N. Thanabalan due to a knee injury. The speedy attacker underwent a MRI scan and is expected to be ready to face Singapore on Wednesday.
Rotation will be key due to the hectic scheduling and Ong could be tempted to rest some players although it is the opening match as the following games against Singapore and Myanmar are expected to determine Group A.
Brunei, coached by South Korean Kwan Oh Son are a side who realistically have no chance in the Games. However, in a tournament where games come thick and fast, do not discount Brunei from putting up a gallant fight.
Brunei will rely on Faiq Bolkiah given his current status as part of the reserve team at English Premier League club side, Leicester City.
The 19-year-old midfielder has already earned full international cap with the Brunei senior team and has the vision to pry open most ASEAN defences. It is their finishing which would determine how they perform against Malaysia as exposed during the recent AFC U23 Qualifiers where they were only able to score 1 goal in 3 matches.
Azim Izamuddin, the goal scorer in the qualifiers must be kept on a tight leash by the Malaysian defence. The young midfielder’s penchant to drift to the right side of the pitch would probably see him face to face with Malaysia’s Adam Nor Azlin.
On the home front, it is likely that bustling striker Jafri Chew will lead the line with Kedah sensation Akhyar Rashid providing the stardust. Jafri’s link up play and ability to hold up the ball has proven key to Kim Swee’s side. A player that improves those around him, Jafri will play a big part in involving the choice of speed merchants preferred by Kim Swee on the flanks.
With Thanabalan being out of the opener, there are some questions as to who will feature on the right side of attack. Syafiq Ahmad is almost guaranteed on the left side of attack where his inclination to drop into the hole between the midfielders and forwards opens up space for his team mates.
Defence wise, the inclusion of Matthew Davies gives Malaysia a bit more nous and fans expect the defence to hold firm.
A comfortable win against the Bruneians is expected. Malaysia awaits.