Saturday, 30 July 2011

Still hope for Malaysian football despite failure

Malaysia's early exit from the World Cup qualifiers should not derail the national team from their course towards reclaiming their status among Asia's elite.
Failure to beat Singapore for the ninth game in a row dating back to 2004 may rankle but national coach K. Rajagobal has the building blocks in place for a successful defence of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup title next year on home ground and qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup.

Yet, Rajagobal faces a challenging task to overcome glaring weaknesses in the young back-line of the national team and develop a natural playmaker capable of turning games around.

The absence of centre-back Aidil Zafuan Radzak from the two-legged 6-4 aggregate defeat to Singapore, bar a brief 22-minute appearance in Thursday's second leg, was a crucial factor in Malaysia conceding six goals in the second round tie.
While Fadhli Shas, 20, and Muslim Ahmad, 22, did well in Malaysia's surprise AFF Cup triumph, they were exposed time and again when put under pressure by Singapore's Aleksandar Duric, Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi.

Right-back Mahalli Jasuli is another who needlessly loses possession, which nearly cost Malaysia dear in the first round away leg against Taiwan.

The ease with which Duric set up Jiayi for the equaliser which cancelled Safee Sali's opener in the 1-1 second leg draw highlighted the need for at least one experienced player in defence.

Which is why Norhafiz Zamani Misbah's recovery from a long-term cruciate ligament injury will be greatly welcomed by Rajagobal following the centre-back's majestic display against Chelsea's Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba in a recently friendly match.

Safiq Rahim's suspension also brought to light the lack of a midfielder capable of pulling strings in the centre.

Although the diminutive Ismail Faruqi Ashari tried as hard as he could to fill the breach, the step-up from Super League to international level proved daunting for the 24-year-old Terengganu midfielder.

"You cannot judge a player after just one match. It takes a long time to integrate into the team and adapt to international football.

"Ismail showed some good things especially in the second half when pushing forward. But as you know, the situation did not warrant me to call up replacements," said Rajagobal.

And the question of who is to partner Safee when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha is not available is clearly no nearer to being answered.

Abdul Hadi Yahya may be the Super League top scorer but his in-the-box style of play is clearly not suited to Rajagobal's expansive link-up play along the flanks and outside the box.

Ahmad Fakri Saarani would have been a natural choice but the Negri Sembilan forward has been so out of sorts in an injury-blighted season that he lost his head when sent off in stoppage time.

There is also an argument that had Khairul Fahmi Che Mat started in goal in the first leg instead of Sharbinee Allawee Ramli, Malaysia would have had a better chance of progressing to the third round of the Asian qualifiers.

Fahmi gave a heroic display in frustrating the Singapore forwards, yet Rajagobal defended his selection.

"It's difficult to say (whether it would have made a difference). Fahmi did well when given his opportunity and I did not field him in the first game for reasons you know why (injury).

"Both goalkeepers did well. You can't blame the goalkeepers for the goals because the team must take the blame collectively, every department."

While the failure to advance to the next round could be construed as a missed opportunity, it does allow Rajagobal to take stock of his team for the next assignment, the AFF Cup.

"I always have belief in the team, even when we were 5-3 down," added Rajagobal. "We had our chances and you could see it was a missed opportunity.

"But I have said from day one that this team are being prepared for the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers. We have to think ahead and the future is good for this team."

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