Malaysia will be hosting Lebanon in a crucial Asian Cup qualifier on Tuesday night with Portuguese head coach Nelo Vingada set for his inaugural match in charge of the Malayan Tigers. He has spent the last two weeks getting to know his players and the various strengths they possess, though the bigger picture continues to remain unclear for local football fans. Safe to say that they’ll be getting a glimpse into the Vingada era tomorrow night, but here are five things you can possibly expect from the clash.
Given the short space of time Nelo Vingada has had to understand Malaysian football, its culture and the mould of players it produces, Tan Cheng Hoe played a pivotal role in announcing the call-ups for this particular batch of familiar. And it features seasoned names like Amri Yahyah, Safee Sali, Azamuddin Akil and even Baddrol Bakthiar – all of whom are no strangers to the national set-up. Options in some positions are relatively limited – especially in offence. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Vingada opt (a decision that will also be influenced by Cheng Hoe) for a familiar line-up with Safee or Amri leading the line.
THE RETURN OF SAFIQ RAHIM
The debate surrounding his controversial retirement in June 2016 aside, Safiq Rahim is easily the finest Malaysian midfielder of his generation and continues to carry the ability to unlock tricky football matches, when it matters the most. He is finally available for selection again and it’ll be a massive surprise if his name isn’t included in the starting eleven. He’s fit, he’s raring to go and he’s the best we’ve got in midfield. More importantly for Vingada, the dressing room looks up to Safiq. That iconic leadership is a prized asset for any new coach looking to implement changes within his team.
PRAGMATIC TACTICAL APPROACH
So much has been said about Vingada and the aptitude he has for conservative football. When we spoke to Ayush Srivastava, an Indian football expert, about Vingada’s stint with NorthEast United, he said: “People felt that he didn’t rotate his squad enough, and tactically he didn’t solve the problems that North East faced in the second half of the season. Tactics were seen as a bit too conservative, leading to chronic lack of goals at crucial moments.” The characteristics surrounding Tuesday’s crucial clash against Lebanon provides Vingada even more reasons to be pragmatic – Lebanon are simply a better footballing side at this juncture.
MINIMAL TIME ON THE BALL
The Lebanese lads may be ranked 135th in the world, but they remain unbeaten on the international stage for more than a year now. They outclassed Hong Kong 2-0 in their previous Asian Cup qualifying fixture and their last defeat was a narrow 0-1 loss to South Korea in March 2016. Juxtapose that to Malaysia’s recent record on the international stage – Harimau Malaya have only won three of their last 10 international fixtures and all those wins came against inferior teams like Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. Times are changing for the Malayan Tigers, but as newly-appointed FAM president Tunku Ismail ibni Sultan Ibrahim himself conceded in recent weeks, it’s too early to expect drastic changes. Lebanon are likely to see more of the ball, by virtue of having a better team and a better recent track record.
PACE, PACE, PACE
There’s two sides to the coin here. Firstly, it’s bound to be a tricky night for the Malaysian defenders. Even without JDT’s Mohammed Ghaddar in the squad, pace is the one thing Lebanon do not lack in their offensive department. Spearheaded by the blistering speed of Soony Saad, who plays for Sporting Kansas City in the Major League Soccer, Les Cedres will undoubtedly look to unlock Malaysia’s defensive structure by using all the pace at their disposal. But the second part of it involves Malaysia as well. Given that they are expected to be on the backfoot for large portions of the game, Vingada’s men are likely to depend on counter-attacking opportunites to push for a break and maybe even get a goal. This one is clearly made for Kunanlan, Fazly Mazlan, Azamuddin Akil, S. Chanturu and even Syazwan Zainon. Win, draw or defeat – pace will probably be at the forefront of it all.