Datuk Ong Kim Swee faces a unique challenge of having to prepare a revamped Malaysian national team squad for what should undoubtedly be a tricky affair against regional rivals, Indonesia.
This is Malaysia’s first international outing since the public retirement of four JDT players, including skipper Safiq Rahim and central defender, Aidil Zafuan. The move prompted OKS to revamp his national squad and it features several fresh faces, which makes tomorrow’s clash a fascinating one.
The first move has already been made – Amri Yahya has been appointed as Malaysia’s new captain. Appointing a new captain is never an easy decision to make, but what will be comparatively harder is replacing Safiq’s influence on the field. He’s arguably one of the best central midfielders in Southeast Asia, and tends to bag goals as well – something OKS needs to address.
While Irfan Fazail seems like a potential replacement for Safiq, Baddrol Bakthiar remains OKS’ biggest bet. He’s likely to be employed in Safiq’s usual role within Malaysia’s midfield, allowing Brendan Gan to sit deep and Irfan to possibly be the box-to-box midfielder.
S. Veenod is another name that could be included in the starting eleven on Tuesday. The versatile player has been in decent form for Selangor over the last few weeks, and his willingness to move across the pitch and put in a solid shift, could convince OKS to hand him a starting berth.
As for Indonesia, this officially marks their return to competitive action for the first time in over a year, after the FIFA ban was lifted recently. And as far as head coach Alfred Riedl is concerned, Indonesian fans need to manage their expectations for this clash.
“You know, the national team hasn’t played a game for over one year now, so this is the first time we’re playing competitive football, after a long, long time. We’ll try to maximize the players we have, I’ve called up the best we have in this country,” Riedl was quoted as saying by Goal Indonesia.
“But we’ve also had very little time to prepare the team, because the players were involved with their respective club teams over the last one week. But we’ll try to maximize things against Malaysia,” he added.
Riedl also confirmed that he’ll be dicussing several tactical aspects of the Malaysian team with Andik Vermansyah, who plies his trade with Selangor FA in the Malaysian Super League. Andik is likely to be Indonesia main source of threat, alongside star striker Irfan Bachdim, who plays for Consadole Sapporo in the J2 League in Japan.
Indonesia’s absence from the international stage could give them an edge in terms of potentially springing a surprise on Malaysia. But if there’s anything OKS knows, it’s the fact that the Garudas will undoubtedly take the game to them on Tuesday. They’re playing at home, and they’re back in action after a prolonged period on the sidelines. And they’ll be eager to give their long-suffering fans, something to cheer about.
Question is, can OKS’ men get the job done under what should be an ‘intense’ atmosphere?