A new Indonesia and fiery fans makes it a whole new ball game


  • Football
  • Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019

Breaking the monotony: Suspended rightback Matthew Davies playing rugby during the Malaysian football team’s training session at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday. — S.S.KANESAN/The Star

PETALING JAYA: A new coach, a team that’s been completely shaken-up, a renewed gusto. It will be a whole new ball game when a buoyant Malaysia take on a desperate Indonesia in their return World Cup 2022-Asia Cup 2023 second-round qualifying Group G match at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil tonight.

But national team coach Tan Cheng Hoe has his own motivation to repeat the first-leg 3-2 win over Indonesia. He wants to end the year with a bang.

The Harimau Malaya kicked off their qualifying campaign with the win over the Garuda in a match marred by crowd trouble. The match was suspended for 10 minutes at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta on Sept 5.

After the loss to Malaysia, Indonesia slumped to four straight defeats in the group that led to Scottish coach Simon Mcmenemy being given the boot. Indonesian Yeyen Tumena has been appointed as caretaker coach for the trip to Kuala Lumpur.

A powder-keg environment is expected at the National Stadium tonight due to the hostility between the two sets of fans. More than 1,400 police personnel will be mobilised to maintain order. The more-than-85,000 tickets were sold out 24 hours before the match, setting the stage for an explosive atmosphere.

Cheng Hoe, however, is more concerned about the action on the pitch and Indonesia’s preparations which saw them training in Malaysia since Nov 12.

The 51-year-old coach said he targets full points from the match to cap 2019 on a high.

“This will be our last match for 2019 and we want to get a positive result. Even though we beat them earlier, it will be a different ball game. They have a new set of players and a new coach. They have been here a week, so it shows they are serious,” said the former international in the pre-match press conference.

“People say Indonesia have problems with their coaching staff but I don’t see that because they came here early to be well prepared for the game. I have told the players to understand and handle the situation. I also hope the fans will keep their emotions in check.”

The Harimau Malaya will be entering the match as the favourites for the first time in their qualifying campaign following the team’s 2-1 win over Thailand at the same venue on Nov 14.

After the Sept 5 win over Indonesia, Cheng Hoe’s men fell to a 1-2 loss to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sept 10 and a 0-1 loss to Vietnam in Hanoi on Oct 5 but bounced back in style to edge the War Elephants.

Cheng Hoe, however, will be missing in-form striker Syafiq Ahmad and rightback Matthew Davies, both of whom are suspended, while another rightback Syahmi Safari is racing against time to shrug off his groin injury.

“Syafiq produced a good performance against Thailand even though he didn’t score. He was very effective and we will miss him. Matthew also played very well in recent games. We will have to find the replacements for them. We have one more day to look at Syahmi and it looks positive but if he can’t make it, we have players capable of stepping up.”

The new-look Garuda could still spoil the party for Malaysia as the Indonesians will be playing without pressure. They have virtually no chance of qualifying to the next round.

“There are a lot of changes in the squad. We are also preparing the team for the SEA Games. We played a friendly against Iran, so there are a couple of players missing. We came early and we watched Malaysia against Thailand,” said Yeyen.

“We know this is a difficult game and Malaysia are in a very confident mood but we’ll give the best we can ... on the pitch, we either win or lose and of course, there is pressure but we will have to face it.”

The pressure, actually, is on Cheng Hoe and his men. And they will have a lot to play for tonight.

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