1-0 inside 7 minutes. Chanathip Songkrasin.
Not the combination of words that Malaysian football fan wants to see when we play Thailand. The first time I was privileged to watch Chanathip play with my own eyes was at AFF Final 2014 2nd leg. Same venue, Bukit Jalil. He came on and by the sound of the final whistle, had broken every heart of Malaysian fans inside the stadium. His goal confirmed the Cup went back to Thailand.
So after 7 minutes, my mind had definitely strayed and wondered whether this is going to be a repeat process. Chanathip scores, Thailand wins.
No repeat. Not Thursday night. That was Malaysia’s night. My wife told me that she asked our 8 year old son if he was going to have fun at Stadium Bukit Jalil. My kid’s reply was “If we win tonight, it’s going to be a good night. If we lose, it’s going to be a bad night”. Obvious as fart. But when the words came out from the mouth of an 8 year old, then they carry weight. 8 year olds have the super power to do what they say. Well, at least my 8 year old does. So, I was a hugely relieved dad when the referee finally blew the whistle after what seemed like 100 gazillion years of added time.
But how indeed did we manage to beat the mighty Thais. A team playing from the back of winning against the group’s top seed UAE, has yet to lose a match and getting stronger after each match. How did we play so majestically when only 4 weeks back in Vietnam we looked so lost and ordinary.
Is it the 4-5-1 formation?
Bukit Jalil crowd?
Enormous Harimau Tifo?
Rolling Aidil Zafuan?
Negeri Sembilan heritage?
All of the above?
So after a two-and-a-half minutes study, I conclude that the reason is simple.
Thailand allowed us to play our game, Vietnam did not.
Thailand played their attacking brand of football and went toe to toe with us. Against this Malaysia team, if opponents allow us to play our game, the best odds would only be a 50-50 percent chance. UAE can testify to this. UAE got their reward. Thailand lost their bet. Vietnam instead chose a different option – to stop us from playing. They hunted down our players in packs. Not just in packs but with speed. It came with a price though as Vietnam couldn’t play their own game. But they had a reliable option. They played effective long balls and over the top of our defenders. Diagonal, horizontal, vertical, name it and they could do it and also with great speed and agility. All under the orders of Park Hang-seo.
Come to think of it, for Vietnam needing to switch from playing their free flowing attacking football is quite a statement by the Malaysian team. TCH has indeed brought out the claws of this slumbering big cat. No further questions on whether he can change Malaysian football.
However, there is one thing that one could ask.
Does TCH has the tactical nous to face cunning coaches like Park Hang-Seo. A coach he is likely to go up against many more times. Can TCH change tactic and gameplay, before match and even during match? Whether or not his players can easily switch gameplays is another matter. Previous matches are not too encouraging. Particularly against Vietnam. Against Park Hang-seo. But let’s deal with Vietnam when it comes. First up, Indonesia. This game will pose a different challenge to TCH. Interesting to see how TCH copes without his recently discovered talisman, Syafiq Ahmad. So the challenges keep coming for TCH and I’m certain that’s just how he likes it.
To progress further in this tournament, TCH needs to get 3 or even 4 more wins. That means he needs to get 1 over Park Hang-seo. A Korean that seems to have an upper edge against TCH. Difficult? I think not. TCH has already done something that was deemed impossible.
He got Malaysia to play football.
Text: Faizal Jabar