By Vijhay Vick
The hosts’ first match and they will be out to ensure there are no slip ups in the SEA Games gold medal hunt, which though a tall order is what the Malaysia Under-22s are aiming for.
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.
Australia struggled to break this Bruneian squad at the AFC Under-23 qualifiers in July, only managing a 2-0 win. Myanmar and Singapore, however, put three and four respectively past them.
Malaysia may be tempted not to field their strongest 11 because of the clash with neighbouring rivals Singapore just two days later. Several players in the squad did not look comfortable playing two matches in three days at the qualifiers in Bangkok last month.
Yet there should be enough strength in the squad, whether it is a weakened line-up or not, for the Malaysians to prevail. A nervy start is what Malaysia Under-22 coach Ong Kim Swee repeated reminded his players to avoid.
Malaysia only managed a 1-0 win in the 2015 opener against Timor Leste in Singapore. The Malaysians lost their cool in the match and Nazmi Faiz Mansor was sent off for spitting at an opponent. He later received a six-match ban and was sent back from the Games.
N. Thanabalan is the only player not available for selection due to a knee injury. The attacker underwent a MRI scan and is expected to be ready to face Singapore on Wednesday.
Penang forward S. Kumaahran is back in training after reporting to camp with a hamstring injury. He could, however, only see action from off the bench as options are plenty with the likes of Jafri Firdaus Chew, Akhyar Rashid and Syafiq Ahmad all in good condition.
Rotation will be key because of the scheduling and Ong could be tempted to rest players although it is the opening match as following clashes against Singapore and Myanmar are expected to determine Group A’s outcome.
Malaysia need to be at their best against Singapore and Myanmar.
KEY PLAYER: SYAFIQ AHMAD
The Kedah youngster was lively against Indonesia in the AFC Under-23 qualifiers and his absence against Thailand in the following match was felt as Malaysia lacked the creativity up front to make the most of the little possession they had.
Syafiq is expected to start on the left side of a three-man forward line and he tends to drop to the fill the vacuum between central midfield and the attack.
Syafiq also tends to run with the ball, skipping past defenders with his quick feet to open up space.
FACTS & FIGURES
- Brunei are largely a squad in progress. Only seven members of the squad are ineligible for the next games while Malaysia have seven eligible for the 2019 edition.
- This is the third edition running both teams were drawn in the same group. Malaysia defeated Brunei 2-0 in 2015 and 2013.
- Malaysia defeated Brunei 5-0 when the two countries met in the opening match when Malaysia last hosted the Games.
Malaysia 3 Brunei 0. The region’s minnow may be rigid at the back but the host are expected to run clear winners.