Malaysia have no option but to attack from the start when they entertain Singapore in the second round return-leg clash at Bukit Jalil National Stadium tonight (8.45pm).
Malaysia was beaten 5-3 in the first-leg at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday. No doubt the outcome of any fo otba l l mat c h boils down to tactical play but national coach Datuk K. Rajagobal will have to set his men on attack mode from the very first kick.
If Malaysia do not do that, then we can kiss goodbye our hopes of re aching the final round of the Asian qualifiers. The Tigers have two capable wingers in S. Kunalan and Mohd Amirul Hadi Zainal who can create havoc although the latter is often used as a substitute.
Amirul Hadi has terrorised defences countless times as proven in the first-leg. It is time for the Selangor star to be given a start. Obviously, the not-so-solid Singapore defence is there for the taking.
There's contention that perhaps Amirul Hadi does not have the stamina to last 90 minutes but he has been playing full games for Selangor in the Super League. In the first-leg, Malaysia attacked along the left, using Kunalan's pace.
He kept the Lions defence busy and their often-scrambling rightback Ismail Yunos was sent off when he received a second yellow card in the secondhalf. Singapore will have problems if Rajagobal starts with the duo.
Picture this — two wingers constantly pressuring the defence w i t h hitman Safee Sali and Super League topscorer Abdul Hadi Yahya running in the centre. Amirul Hadi and Kunalan are likely to beat their markers and leave space for the strikers.
Speaking of Hadi, the Terengganu striker should also start the match instead of Ahmad Fakri Saarani. He comes into the team full of confidence. He finished the Super League with 20 goals and also scored a crucial one in the first-leg.
Hadi has four international caps and Ismail Faruqi Ashari earned his first cap last week. It's not that the Negri Sembilan player is not capable of delivering but he is more of a winger, a position in which Amirul Hadi will be more effective.
There is likely to be changes at the back too. Negri Sembilan defender Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak is likely to start after recovering from injury.
Despite being only 23, he is the most experienced defender in the team. Malaysia's defence was porous in the first-leg and Aidil's inclusion will be a major boost.
Goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat is another player who may return now that he has recovered from a shoulder injury. Regarded by many as the first-choice, Khairul had said he was ready to play tonight. Should Malaysia turn the tie around, Rajagobal and his charges will surely be in the histor y books as Malaysia have never reached the final continental stage.
Not even during the times of legends like the late Mokhtar Dahari, Hassan Sani, Santokh Singh and Soh Chin Aun have Malaysia achieved this honour.
Malaysia did qualify for two Olympics though, in 1972 and 1980. There is a certain aura among the players and fans alike. This may well be Malaysia's moment to step onto the larger stage.