AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: How Malaysia outclassed Thailand

Ahead of the first leg of the semifinal clash between Malaysia and Thailand at the Bukit Jalil stadium, all the talk surrounded the War Elephants’ potent attack. In Sanrawat Dechmitr, Adisak Kraisorn and Supachai Jaided, Thailand boasted one of the best groups of attack-minded players in the tournament. However, Malaysia remained unfazed and took the game to their much-fancied opponents, showing the template for other teams in the process.

Malaysia’s template for success

Malaysia stuck to the system that had worked right through the tournament with a 4-man backline complemented by two holding midfielders in Akram Mahinan and Syamer Kutty Abba. With two strikers in Zaquan Adha and Norshahrul Idlan pushing in-field, it meant Mohamadou Sumareh and Safawi Rasid could bomb down the flanks, which further allowed full-backs Syahmi Safari and Syazwan Andik to effectively play as wingers for the most part.

Thailand, meanwhile, have been criticised for being overly negative in their approach in previous games and that was the case yet again. Sitting far too deep in their own half, they afforded the likes of Akram and Syamer too much time and space on the ball, refusing to press high up the pitch or even close down the man on the ball.

The visitors’ narrow back four meant there were plenty of spaces to exploit on the flanks and Malaysia did that to perfection in the first half. With Nurul Sriyankem refusing to track back and perform his defensive duties, it meant the War Elephants’ right back Mika Chunuonsee was often isolated against both Safawi and Syazwan.

Constantly creating 2 v 1 situations, they easily managed to get to the byline and whip crosses into the box, only for their wastefulness in front of goal to cost them. Harimau Malaya were also mindful of Pansa Hemviboon’s presence in the Thai backline and ensured they didn’t loft too many high balls into the box, instead relying on low whipped crosses and cutbacks for their strikers and onrushing midfielders to attack.

On another night, they could easily have had 5-6, with Safawi in particular lacking composure in front of goal. The likes of Norshahrul, Zaquan and Sumareh too were guilty of missing gilt-edged opportunities, blazing shots way over the crossbar much to the dismay of the home fans.

On a few occasions, the Thailand backline did decide to push up, but they were caught out by the pace of Sumareh and co. who ghosted past Korakod, Pansa and, Chalermpong far too easily.

Sanrawat, Adisak no-show

Off the ball, Malaysia neutralized the threat of Sanrawat extremely well, closing him down quickly and cutting off the passing lanes. In fact, so efficient were they in their execution, they forced the Thai playmaker to drop deep into his own half to try and generate attacks and he was often seen lining up next to the centre-backs to receive the ball and build play from the back.

With Milovan Rajevac’s side keen to try and play out from the back, Malaysia opted to press high up the field, forcing Thailand into quick sloppy passes and long balls pumped up to Adisak.

This might have been a useful ploy considering Adisak’s aerial prowess, however, with both Thitipan Puangchan and Tanaboon Kesarat sitting extremely deep to protect their shaky defence, there was simply no one in the opposition half to win the second balls and keep attacks going. Malaysia regained possession far too easily and could begin building attacks yet again.

On the odd occasion that Thailand did find some space to break into, the likes of Syamer, Akram and Safawi were quick to spot danger, resorting to clever tactical fouls to break up attacks and frustrate the visitors.

Numbers game

Malaysia enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, as they have been known to do in games, commanding 63.2 per cent of the ball. They also had a whopping 23 shots on goal, with their profligacy proving costly. The two shots on target paint a sorry picture indeed.

For Thailand, on the other hand, the numbers are evidence of their disastrous showing on the night, failing to register a single shot on target over the course of the 90 minutes.

However, what truly indicates the dominance of the hosts is the 512 passes they completed in contrast to the visitors’ 307.

Shocking indeed!

What’s in store at the Rajamangala?

Heading into the second leg at the Rajamangala stadium, Tan Cheng Hoe will want more of the same from his men while Milovan Rajevac will need to find a way to motivate his side to put up a better fight if they are to avoid a humiliating defeat in front of their home fans.