Singapore will take on Malaysia in what is set to be a feisty match-up at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, as the AIRMARINE Cup kicks off.
The Lions, led by former captain Nazri Nasir, will play their first game since losing 3-0 to Thailand in their final group match at the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup. They will be looking for their first victory over Malaysia since a 3-0 triumph en route to winning the Suzuki Cup in 2012.
Harimau Malaya meanwhile will approach this game with a far better record behind them. They reached the final of last year’s ASEAN showpiece, where they were narrowly beaten by a superb Vietnam team.
Despite being ranked 2 spots below Singapore in the FIFA World Rankings in 167th, Malaysia boast a formidable side, and will look to put their Southern rivals to the sword in front of a baying crowd at Bukit Jalil.
Depleted Lions look to pull off shock
On top of Singapore’s poor record against Malaysia in recent years and their abject displays at the last 3 Suzuki Cups, the Lions’ misery is compounded by the fact that they will be without key players Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi and Zulqarnaen Suzliman, who are with the national under-22 team preparing for the upcoming AFC U23 Qualifiers, as well as goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who misses out with a knock.
This could leave Singapore light in the goalscoring department, and with Home United frontman Shahril Ishak being left at home, the Lions are left with the relatively inexperienced Iqbal Hussain and 34-year-old veteran Khairul Amri up top.
Nonetheless, new manager Nazri is optimistic about his side’s chances of causing an upset.
“It is a dream and an honour to be Lions coach for this big tournament. I’m familiar with the senior players, having worked with them in different capacities including in Lions XII,” he said.
“We’re playing our first game against Malaysia and we will play our hearts out for our country.”
If Singapore are to pull off a scalp against their much-fancied rivals, they will need their top players, such as Johor Darul Ta’zim captain Hariss Harun and Kedah FA stalwart Shakir Hamzah, to be on top of their games. If not, the Lions could be in for a mauling at the Tigers’ den.
Singapore Predicted XI: Izwan; Faritz, Irwan, Safuwan, Shakir, Nazrul; Hariss, Izzdin, Yasir, Faris; Amri.
Wounded Tigers ready to pounce
Fresh from their final heartbreak against Vietnam, the Tigers will relish the chance to put things right against their great rivals. With manager Tan Cheng Hoe confident his side can win the tournament altogether, they will look to get off to a good start with a comprehensive win over Singapore.
Malaysia are likely to be missing just one player in the form of PKNS FC centre half Nicholas Swirad, who looks set to miss out with a groin injury. Striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (fever) and defensive midfielder Kenny Pallraj (knock) are expected to be fit to star against the Lions on Wednesday.
“There’s a big possibility that Nic (Swirad) won’t be able to make the tournament but I hope Mat Yo (Norshahrul) and Kenny will be fit to face Singapore. We need Mat Yo for his experience,” said Cheng Hoe to the Malay Mail.
Despite being the lowest ranked team at the tournament, behind Singapore (165), Afghanistan (140) and Oman (90), Tan was quick to express his confidence and belief that his side could exceed expectations.
“This is going to be a very tough match. We aim to use this tournament to improve our world ranking and, at the same time, win the inaugural Cup,” he continued.
“What’s important is that our players learn to control their emotions during the match, which is likely to be highly-charged, and not get sent off as that will affect the team’s rhythm.”
Malaysia Predicted XI: Khairul Fahmi; Safari, Aidil Zafuan, Saad, Andik; Sumareh, Kutty Abba, Akram, Pallraj; Talaha, Zaquan Adha.
The other semi-final fixture sees Afghanistan and Oman do battle at the same venue at 4.25pm, 4 hours before Singapore and Malaysia meet.