IT is not yet a do-or-die mission when Malaysia face Thailand today in a crucial Group A match at the Gelora Bung Karno as coach Ong Kim Swee prepares to shake things up after a dour opening draw against Singapore on Monday.
Malaysia’s Saarani Ahmad Fakri (front) battles for the ball with Singapore’s Mohammad Afiq Yunos at Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta on Monday. The teams drew 0-0.
Kim Swee insists even a draw against the Thais, widely seen as the favourites in this tournament, would suffice in keeping the defending champions' hopes of making the semi-finals alive.
What is certain is that Kim Swee is going to make a few changes after several players put in disappointing performances in the 0-0 draw with Singapore.
"We did not play as well as we should have, especially in midfield in the opening 30 minutes," said Kim Swee when met at the team hotel yesterday.
"They failed to create openings for the strikers, so don't be surprised when I make a few changes.
"The defence played well especially Muslim (Ahmad) who was really outstanding. It is one less thing for me to worry about.
"Thailand are a technically gifted team and we have to be careful especially in midfield and their attacking third. But this game is not just about defending as we need to score goals as well but I would be happy with one point as it is not a do-or-die game for us."
The changes Kim Swee could make include dropping striker A. Thamil Arasu, midfielders K. Gurusamy, Abdul Shukor Jusoh and Ahmad Fakri Saarani.
As Thailand will be playing their first match of the competition, the need for fresh legs could not be more acute.
Kim Swee might throw 17-year-old attacking midfielder Nazmi Faiz Mansor into the fray while midfielder Irfan Fazail and striker Izzaq Faris Ramlan are also due for starts after recovering from injury and illness respectively.
Mahalli Jasuli will be restored to the right-back position to allow Fandi Othman to switch to the left flank in an almost all-new midfield combination.
Kim Swee's disappointment with Gurusamy is especially evident after failing to take control of midfield.
"I don't know what is the problem with him. Maybe it is due to a lack of international competitive action. I've given a lot people chances in friendly matches but it is totally different when it comes to big matches.
"He is one of the more senior players after being in the 2009 squad and should be leading the team here. His performance was just unacceptable," added Kim Swee.
Meanwhile, Thailand are itching to avenge their 2-1 defeat to Malaysia in 2009 which consigned them to an early exit with midfielder Sujarit Jantakol hoping to shake off a slight ankle injury to play.
"I desperately want to play in this match because in the previous Sea Games in Laos, I was in the squad that lost to Malaysia which saw us knocked out," Sujarit told the Bangkok Post.
TODAY -- Group A: Malaysia v Thailand (5pm), Cambodia v Singapore (8pm, both matches at Gelora Bung Karno); Group B: Myanmar v Brunei (5pm), Vietnam v Timor Leste (8pm, both matches at Lebak Bulus Stadium)