Tough... but let's not give up!

TWO weeks ago, I dismissed Malaysia's chances of qualifying from the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup, which is jointly hosted by Singapore and Vietnam.

After two games, my prediction seems to be right. As a pragmatist, I just felt this current side isn't strong enough to mount a challenge for the title, and even the group stages.

We drew against Myanmar in the first game 0-0 and Thailand fought back to beat us 3-2 in the next game. Just one point in two games and we need to beat Singapore at all cost!

However, the optimistic side of me says - just silence the deafening Kallang roar and beat Singaporeans at their home soil today to qualify for the semi-finals!

If you ask me, the optimistic side seems to be disagreeing with that pragmatic side.

Baihakki Khaizan has been suspended, Shahdan Sulaiman is injured and Bernd Stange is worried that Baihakki's loss will weaken his defence. These three factors should work in Malaysia's favour.

However, we have our own worry, too - Safee Sali!

Against Thailand, he impressed but he wasn't the Safee we knew. At 30, he should be at his peak but in the last two seasons, injuries and loss of form have contributed to his downfall.

To make matters worse, a picture of him smoking has been circulated around and some portals have picked it up.

It is your right to smoke but to do it when you are on national duty and also donning the national team jacket… dude, you know it is a public relations disaster!

Fans have hit out at his form and on Instagram, the forward criticised some fans for not knowing how tough international games are.

On July 2014, young Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was forced to apologise after he was caught smoking while on holiday in Las Vegas.

His manager Arsene Wenger voiced his disapproval over it and has since held talks with the 22-year-old England international.

Now that fans have seen the picture, my only advice to Safee - do the talking on the pitch. I'm sure there is a reason why he has been likened to the great Datuk Mokhtar Dahari.

As a fan, I just want to see him win his physical duels, show his brilliant close control and make those powerful shots. If he does that against the Lions, who cares about him smoking! (Though I think professional athletes should avoid smoking.)

If he doesn't do well, then he has to bear the consequences from the fans and who knows, the management. And another worry is our defence.

Mohd Afif Amiruddin might have been an asset for PDRM in the Malaysian Premier League but he doesn't seem to be a defender of international quality.

He has the physical presence but he is very erratic. He was at fault for the first two Thailand goals. People, including me, felt that Razman Roslan should have been selected but coach Dollah Salleh has selected his squad and he only has Muslim Ahmad and Mohd Fadhli Shas as his centre-backs.

If Afif is selected to play against Singapore, the 30-year-old will need to be on his toes when facing the likes of Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri. He is one player who would want to prove a point. Actually make it two, including Safee.

Dollah Salleh was happy with his team's fighting performance against Thailand but that isn't enough. He needs to rally his boys for this match and when he said that Norshahrul Idlan Talaha didn't impress against Thailand, he means business. Actually… make it three, the nippy Norshahrul would want to prove a point too!

Dollah claimed that the host didn’t allow them to train in Singapore’s National Stadium before the match but all that shouldn’t be made a problem for our national side.

When you love the game, any pitch shouldn’t be a problem for you. The love for the game and country will bring you places! I just hope that the players who won the 2010 Suzuki Cup will help spur this team tomorrow.

All the players should be calm but spirited when facing the boisterous Singapore fans. All we want is for our side to qualify for the semi-finals.

For now, the players should know the whole nation is behind them. When singing Negaraku and also during the match, all they should think of is beating the Singaporeans and delighting all Malaysians!
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