Key Battles: Malaysia vs Qatar

AMIRIDZWAN TAJ
VS SEBASTIAN SORIA
 

Although Malaysia lost against Bahrain, centre-back Amiridzwan Taj had a very good game, commanding the back line and neutralising the threat of Bahrain throughout the game. He partnered Aidil Zafuan well in the heart of the Malaysian defence, and save for the solitary mistake that resulted in the only Bahrain goal in that match, Amiridzwan is steadily staking his claim at the position. His performance, in fact, made the defence the most convincing area of a sub-par Malaysia team, and he will most likely start Tuesday's match against Qatar.

However he will be up against one of the most experienced players of the Qatar national team; Uruguayan-born forward Sebastian Soria. The 30-year-old Lekhwiya SC player has featured over 80 times, and scored almost 30 goals for Qatar, and he will surely have a few tricks up his sleeve when encountering the almost water-tight defence. Soria must be alert to the Malaysia defenders' perennial weakpoint; loss of focus, and take advantage of it when the opportunity presents itself.




SAFIQ RAHIM
VS KHALFAN IBRAHIM
 

The Malaysia midfield encapsulates the conundrum that is head coach Datuk K. Rajagopal's team selection. They constantly play like headless chickens, without a clear strategy, resulting in the missing crucial link between the serviceable defence and the hopeful forward. They are mediocre when assisting the defenders and almost non-existent when the rare chance to attack shows itself. Tteam captain Safiq Rahim is unfortunately the culprit behind this, throughout this year he has failed to command his midfielders, much less the whole team when on the pitch. To be fair, it must be said that his performance against Bahrain last week has improved, in a way that he was not as terrible as he had been in Malaysia's previous matches. He did not make too many mistakes, but he did not contribute much either. Here's hoping that he'll keep on improving in Tuesday's match.

The Qatar coaching staff have surely done their homework and identified Malaysia's weakness in midfield, and they will do well to first ensure dominance in that area, then use a midfielder as an extra attacking option, just to disrupt the home side's defending strategy. Who else is more suitable for the job but 25-year-old Khalfan Ibrahim, whose taste for scoring goals was most recently quenched in their 6-0 home drubbing of Yemen, in which he scored two.

 

NORSHAHRUL IDLAN
VS SAAD AL-SHEEB
 

Johor Darul Takzim forward Norsharul Idlan Talaha had an uncharacteristically quiet night against Bahrain, failing to threaten the penalty area of the home side last week, which was an unfortunate thing as at one point, Bahrain looked to be running out of ideas while Malaysia were dominating the game. Against Qatar, he again must summon his knack for scoring through individual efforts, and he can perhaps also look forward to the return of Safee Sali, his striker partner when Malaysia won the 2010 AFF Cup, in the first eleven.

Goalkeeper Saad was chosen to man the goalmouth in Qatar's latest match, an easy 4-1 win for them, so he must ensure that he is extra alert against the slightly more-competitive Malaysia. Despite Malaysia's inability to play flowing football, they do create chances for themselves, and it is through these half-chances that Norshahrul usually, yet unsuspectingly, scores. Saad must convince his coach and teammates that his goalmouth is impenetrable, before Qatar themselves get to attack the homeside, to notch a win on Tuesday that will take them to Australia next year.

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