Monday, 7 November 2011

Malaysia start defence of SEA Games gold medal

Rank outsiders two years ago, Malaysia have a huge target on their backs this time as Ong Kim Swee's side begin the defence of the Sea Games gold medal against Singapore at the Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta today.
With matches against Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, it is safe to say the national Under-23 team will have no easy ride in a bid to make the semi-finals from Group A.

Kim Swee acknowledged the pressure to retain the gold medal is far higher than it was winning it in Vientiane where Malaysia ended a 20-year barren run at the Games.

"When others play us, they tend to play their very best, sometimes even better. We have to deliver not 100 per cent but 200 per cent on the pitch in order to try and win," Kim Swee was quoted as saying.
Since the football event became an Under-23 affair, Malaysia have not lost to Singapore having won 2-0 in 2001 and drawn 1-1 in 2007.

Irfan Fazail's return to fitness comes as a relief to Kim Swee after the side were hit with a spate of injuries ahead of the Games.

Midfielders Gary Steven Robbat (hamstring) and Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor (ankle) were left at home after failing to recover in time while Kuala Lumpur striker Ahmad Hazwan Bakri succumbed to a hamstring injury much earlier. But with six players retained from the 2009 gold medal-winning side, Malaysia have a wealth of experience to call upon.

Baddrol Bakhtiar has been handed the captaincy while Muslim Ahmad, Asraruddin Putra Omar and Mahalli Jasuli lend experiance to the backline.

Ahmad Fakri Saarani, who has largely been out-of-sorts this season, is hoping to finally hit form while K. Gurusamy marshals the midfield.

Besides the six, Kim Swee has senior players in goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat and defender Fadhli Shas, who along with Irfan and Wan Zack, played for a month in the Slovak league while on loan at Vion Zlate Moravce.

Izzaq Faris Ramlan provides an aerial threat upfront while Yong Kuong Yong and Fandi Othman will be looking to supply the forwards with crosses from the flanks.

Singapore, bronze medallists in 2009, have never won the Sea Games gold and are bidding to make the final for the first time since 1989 when they lost 3-1 to Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

Hariss Harun, who featured prominently in Singapore's 6-4 World Cup qualifying aggregate win over Malaysia in July, will lead the republic's side.

"We've reminded the players that they are not going there just to play Malaysia," said Singapore coach Slobodan Pavkovic in the Today newspaper.

"We're there to play four group matches for a start, and we need to be ready for all four and it's a matter of how many points we can get from all of the matches.

"Even if the opening match is difficult, we know things won't get any easier against Cambodia, Indonesia or Thailand."

Indonesia, who failed to advance past the group stage in 2007 and 2009, open their campaign against Cambodia while looking to make the most of home-ground advantage.


Group A: Malaysia v Singapore (5pm), Indonesia v Cambodia (8pm)
Both matches at Gelora Bung Karno

Group B: Timor Leste v Philippines (5pm), Laos v Brunei (8pm)
Both matches at Lebak Bulus Stadium

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