The Malaysian Tigers were at their toothless best in their opening Group A match of the SEA Games football tournament at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium in Senayan yesterday.
There was more fret than strut to their game, belying the fact that they are the defending champions.
It was an insipid fare presented by two teams who seemed intent on outdoing the other in the boredom stakes. Thankfully, only 300 fans were there to be bored.
It certainly was not the best of starts for both teams in a treacherous Group of Death but the coaches felt differently, strangely satisfied with a point each. Perhaps they felt they could do better against 13-time winners Thailand, hosts Indonesia and tricky Cambodia.
Coach Ong Kim Swee had four players from the triumphant 2009 Laos SEA Games squad in the starting line-up – attacking midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar, defenders Mohd Muslim Ahmad, Mohd Fadhli Shas and Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar. But it made no difference at all.
Kim Swee admitted that they lacked a topnotch hitman with the killer instinct. Only skipper Baddrol had a few decent shots at goal while the other offensive players, Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim, A. Thamil Arasu and substitute Izzaq Faris Ramlan, were all at sea.
The excuses were predictable.
“The forwards were not sharp enough but I don’t have a big pool of players to choose from. Syahrul is only 18 while Thamil and Izzaq are both 20. Given time I feel they will be better players,” said Kim Swee at the post-match conference, obviously looking ahead to the next SEA Games in Myanmar in two years’ time.
Singapore coach Pavkovic Slobodan said he was happy to get a point from the opening game, especially against the defending champions. The Jakarta smog must have gotten to him as well.
“This competition is not about one game. There are three more matches and to collect a point from the defending champions is a good result,” said Slobodan.
Little wonder the players were groping in the dark. The match was lifeless in the first half as though zombies from the hit TV series “The Walking Dead” had taken to the field. At least they would have been more entertaining.
Scoring chances were far and few inbetween.
Skipper Baddrol came the closest with two attempts – one was saved by Singapore goalkeeper Mohd Izwan Mahbud in the 25th minute while the other, a curling shot, narrowly missed the target in the 35th.
Singapore striker Muhd Fazli Ayop tested Khairul Fahmi Che Mat twice with a low grounder in the 12th and 40th minutes but the Malaysian goalkeeper had little trouble warding off the danger on both occasions.
There was more urgency after the breather with Kim Swee opting for Mohd Irfan Fazail, Wan Zaharulnizam Zakaria and Izzaq but they too failed to ignite the team.
The last 10 minutes were quite open and the match could have gone either way but both sets of forwards were determined not to ruffle the net.
Malaysia’s next game is against Thailand tomorrow.
Singapore: Mohd Izwan Mahbud, Muhd Safuwan Baharudin, Mohd Afiq Yunos, Navin Neil Vanu, Safirul Sulaiman (Muhd Hafiz Sujad), Shahdan Sulaiman, Muhd Irwan Shah (Muhd Yasir Hanapi), Muhd Fazil Ayob (Muhd Khairul, Harris Harun, Muhd Shahrir Hamzah, Muhd Zulfahmi Arifin.
Malaysia: Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Mohd Fadhli Shas, Mohd Asraruddin Putra Omar, A. Thamil Arasu (Wan Zaharulnizam Zakaria), Baddrol Bakhtiar, K. Gurusamy, Ahmad Fakri Saarani, Mohd Fandi Othman, Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim (Izzaq Faris Ramlan), Abdul Shukur Jusoh (Mohd Irfan Fazail), Mohd Muslim Ahmad.