Harimau Malaya need miracle against Saudi Arabia to win back fans

Malaysia no easy-beats, says Saudi coach Van Marwijk (left). With him at his press conference in Kuala Lumpur September 7, 2015, is captain Osama Hawsawi. — Bernama pic
Malaysia no easy-beats, says Saudi coach Van Marwijk (left). With him at his press conference in Kuala Lumpur September 7, 2015, is captain Osama Hawsawi. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — The Malaysian football squad who will be facing another uphill task against Saudi Arabia tomorrow must get into winning ways to win back the support of fans.

The best result fans can hope for from the national side, which had just featured thrice in the Asian Cup against the three-time champions, will be a draw or a win through a “football miracle”.

The national side, dubbed “Harimau Malaya”, so far have collected only one point after a 1-1 draw against minnows Timor Leste in the Group A opening match before being mauled 6-0 by war-torn Palestine in June and a 10-0 record worst defeat to United Arab Emirates (UAE) last Friday.

Following the humiliation, coach Dollah Salleh resigned immediately and today, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah announced that he would leave the post gradually, once his responsibilities were settled.

The Under-23 national side coach, Datuk Ong Kim Swee, who was appointed interim coach for Harimau Malaya, believes the boys would bounce back to put up a good fighting spirit against the Middle East giants.

Kim Swee who was in charge of the national squad for about four months — from February 3 last year to June 28 — after the then national coach Datuk K. Rajagobal’s contract was not extended by FAM when it ended on December 31, 2013, is the best choice to lead the national side until the country’s football ruling body finds a replacement for Dollah.

But 44-year-old Kim Swee, who guided the national team to win the 2011 SEA Games gold medal, can only make limited changes to the team after taking charge of it three days ago.

On reporting for duty, Kim Swee said he needed to work on the psychological and mental strength of the players, so that they could show their true calibre when facing Saudi Arabia.

“It’s no use thinking about the previous match result but to instead focus on their (players) own preparations for the next match,” he said.

For the challenge against Saudi Arabia, Kim Swee has called up five players — Ramadhan Hamid and Adam Nor Azlin from Harimau Muda B, Mohd Fadhli Shas (Johor Darul Ta’zim), Ahmad Fakri Saarani (Kelantan) and Nurridzuan Abu Hassan (Perak).

He dropped six players — goalkeeper Zamir Selamat and defender Muhammad Zubir Mohd Azmi after both were injured, along with Mohd Nor Farhan Muhammad, Ahmad Syamim Yahya, Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim and S. Kumaahran from the previous match.

Saudi Arabia, in a tie with UAE on six points in Group A but in second place owing to a lower goal difference, will not do Malaysia any favours.

Manager Bert Van Marwijk demands his players give the best display to “win big”. Looking for a place in the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time since 2006, Van Marwijk’s side had recorded a 3-2 win over Palestine in the opening match and hammered Timor Leste 7-0 on Friday to collect full points from two matches.

“We came here to play a very important game tomorrow, so we try to prepare as best as possible. That is why we came here on Friday itself after the game against Timor Leste in Saudi Arabia. Malaysia is a very dangerous opponent and we must be careful.

“Others may think it would be easy to beat a side which lost 10-0, but for me, I don’t think so. I think playing against a team which lost so huge and the coach has gone will not be easy,” the 63-year-old said.

Van Marwijk was the Netherlands manager who took the side to the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, where his side lost to Spain 0-1 in extra time. Malaysia, who last won against Saudi Arabia in 1981 with a score of 4-1, had lost eight times and drawn twice to date since then.

In their last meeting, an international friendly in 2009, Saudi Arabia won 2-1.

The group winners and four best runners-up will advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup finals, while the next best 24 teams will compete in a separate competition for the remaining 12 or 11 (11 if host does not qualify) slots in the 24-team Asian Cup.

After Saudi Arabia, Malaysia will play away to Timur Leste on October 13 and Palestine (November 12), UAE (Nov 17) at home, and Saudi Arabia (March 24) away. — Bernama