The Bukit Jalil National Stadium prepares to host a crucial encounter today, as Thailand travel to take on Malaysia in the first leg of the AFF Cup Semi Finals. Both sides are in fine form, and the contrast of styles could make for a fascinating match. Aiman Nazirmuddin of Football Tribe Malaysia and Obb Deewajin of Football Tribe Thailand weigh up their respective sides’ strengths and weaknesses and make predictions for the upcoming match.
Malaysia: Tan Cheng Hoe made a change between the sticks, as Farizal Marlias came in as the main keeper, replacing Khairul Fahmi Che Mat. The 32-year-old has extensive experience in the AFF Suzuki Cup. The Johor Darul Ta'zim star has been known to have outstanding agility, reflexes, consistency and shot-stopping, as well as his foot-work, positioning, concentration, and speed.
Thailand: Malaysia and Thailand both conceded 3 goals in the group stage so there's shouldn't be much of a difference between the 2 keepers, however, I believe Chatchai Budprom may just edge over Farizal Marlias in terms of overall quality. Both keepers are in their early 30s, with Chatchai 31 and Farizal 32, but the Malaysian Number 1 clearly has more experience on international levels, having represented "The Harimau Malaya" since 2009 However, Chatchai's decisiveness compared to his Malaysian counterpart could put him in slightly better standing. It is this minor technical detail that convinces me Chatchai is the better goalie, as evidenced by his anticipation to rush out and collect crosses against Singapore.
Malaysia: Malaysia's defence will be spearheaded by Aidil Zafuan, a 29-year-old who has vast experience in international matches. He will also be assisted by young players such as Shahrul Saad, Syazwan Andik and Syahmi Safari. Malaysia's defense is seen to have stability in terms of experience and speed, as well as good cohesion and chemistry. Full-backs Andik and Safari will definitely use their speed to help the country's wingers in the attack. Shahrul Saad and Aidil Zafuan will control the center and aim to give hell to Thailand's strikers.
Thailand: Defensively speaking, it's been a long time since Thailand has seen such a strong back-four unit. The pairing of Pansa Hemviboon and captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew has been one of best changes under Milovan Rajevac's reign. The two fullbacks now pay more attention defensively, only advancing forward if the holding midfielder is there to cover the vacanted space. Still, this hasn't ripped the Thai full-backs off their attacking contributions, as seen by the cumulative 3 assists and a goal from 4 games. No other pair of fullbacks have contributed this much in an offense sence. Tan Cheng Hoe is doing a decent job trying to develop possession football but the Malaysian defenders still look too uncomfortable in possession. They are passing around back and forth in their defensive but unable the break the line. This may backfire against Thailand's pressing tactics.
Malaysia: Akram Mahinan's tranquility in controlling the ball and tempo is indispensable. He acts as an anchor to the midfield and does not stray too far away from his position. His job is to choke any potential attacks stemming from the opponent's midfield moves, while at the same time supporting his teammates in advanced positions. He is also expected to assist the country's defense when they are attacked by Thailand. The speed of Syamer Kutty in winning the ball back is also expected to be used in this game. He acts as an box to box player is expected to win the ball and carry the attack forward, as he is able to tackle and pass effectively. He will also shuttle back and forth, covering a lot of ground and acting almost as two players in one, which could cause major problems for Thailand.
Thailand: Midfield might be one area Thailand is having an issue with after keyman Thitipan Puangchan suffered a swollen ankle from the Singapore game and had to train separately. Defensive midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat hasn't been 100% match fit all tournament so he could be in deep trouble without Thitipan's energy alongside. Sanrawat Dechmitr is probably the man of the tournament so far, leading the assist chart with 4 assists, and will be Thailand's most important creative outlet. Rajevac might fancy a counter-attack approach so the quality of pacey wingers such as Nurul Sriyankem can't be underestimated especially against the Malaysian fullbacks that prefer to position themselves high and wide.
Malaysia: Our strikers have great speed and experience. Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Zaquan Adha will use their clever ability to cross Thailand's defensive area. Norshahrul should aim to attract Thailand's defence and create space for other players to exploit, while Zaquan can play as a target man and become the focal point of attack by holding the ball up in an advanced positions. They will be assisted by Sumareh and Safawi, two young players who have speed and are comfortable in possession of the ball.
Thailand: Adisak Kraisorn may not be fully fit, but his goal against Singapore is enough proof to show that the 27 year old remains as clinical as ever. Last game Zaquan played well while Norshahrul Idlan might be dangerous, but he is not as mobile as he used to be. Therefore, it is safe to say that Malaysia's offensive strengths aren't in the strikers themselves, but wide men such as Sumareh and Safawi who can take players on.
Malaysia: Tan Cheng Hoe is always played to win, to pass the ball, and to impose his own attacking style of football. His teams are aggressive, dominant and resilient, never giving up, regardless of the game situation.
Thailand: The home crowd will encourage Tan Cheng Hoe's men to attack and that may play right into Rajevac's counter-attacking football. The Serbian coach has instilled great discipline into the side, and that should help them edge a win over a Malaysian team still trying to adapt to a new style of play.
Aiman (Malaysia): Malaysia 3-2 Thailand
Obb (Thailand): Malaysia 1-2 Thailand