At the end of a woeful first half in the Causeway derby between Malaysia and Singapore, the DJ at the Shah Alam Stadium chose to play the Michael Jackson hit ‘Beat It’.
That could very well have been an ironic nod to a slow-paced opening 45 minutes or perhaps to two of the three strikes which will be hard to top for goal of the tournament.
Singapore were scarcely deserving of their 1-0 half-time advantage and after a second period of continued meandering, they were rightly rolled over by a Harimau Muda outfit that made two crucial changes at the break. Malaysia came out with new vigour and poise to all but end the Singaporean SEA Games campaign before it began.
Malaysia, by contrast, can now enjoy a rest all the way until Monday where they will face a Myanmar side who scored late to register a 2-1 win over Laos.
That means what most expected pre-tournament is already looking close to being confirmed, with Myanmar and Malaysia the red-hot favourites to reach the semifinals.
What a comeback win!
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) August 16, 2017
Fox Sports Asia takes a look at five things we learned from the latest installment of the Malaysia/Singapore rivalry.
CHANGES MADE THE DIFFERENCE
At a tournament like this where the entire group stage is crammed into little more than a week, squad rotation is absolutely crucial and the contrast between the two camps was telling.
Malaysia made half a dozen rotational moves from their opening match while, unusually, Singapore opted for just the two. That showed as the match wore on and the hosts were able to steamroll their tiring opponents.
More than that, it was the in-game management which absolutely changed the complexion of this match and all kudos must go to Datuk Ong Kim Swee, who tactically outmaneuvered his rival here.
In need of control and energy, he introduced Nor Azam Azih and N. Thanabalan at the break and not only did they provide the qualities that helped Malaysia dictate the tempo of the second half, they also scored the two goals that ultimately won the match.
OUTSTANDING GOALS LIGHT UP A DULL CONTEST
The three best goals of the tournament to date have all come in matches involving Malaysia – Safawi Rasid’s opener against Brunei and one each for the two nations here.
Amiruldin Asraf put Singapore ahead seven minutes shy of the interval with a cracking shot from distance that screamed into the goal off the post. As technically sound as the strike was though, Malaysia will be far from happy that several defenders seemed to drop off and give him the space to shoot.
SEA Games 2017 Group Stage:
— Singapore Football (@SGfootball) August 16, 2017
If that appeared the only way that the ‘visitors’ were likely to score, Malaysia had similar problems as they spluttered through the first hour before Nor Azam Azih popped up at the top of box and sent a beautifully struck shot flying into the Singapore goal to start the comeback.
SINGAPORE TURN IN ANOTHER CONCERNING PERFORMANCE
At all levels, from the Under-15s all the way up to the senior side, there is not only a hugely concerning lack of talent but also a tactical conservatism and simplicity to much of Singapore’s play that is rapidly sending them backwards as every other nation in the region progresses.
Talent is an issue that is far less easily fixed but some of the decisions made during this tournament have little to do with ability and everything to do with instruction and decision-making.
If you want an example, rewind to the first three seconds of this match where rather than trying to hold possession and start to work Malaysia around with short passes, they simply – aimlessly – hoofed the kick-off long and saw it sail harmlessly over the touchline.
For much of the rest of the contest the approach when attacking was the same – inane long balls or wild switches of play which are such ‘low percentage’ plays that you wonder why they were instructed to conduct things this way.
As decent as their defensive organisation was, this is, as has repeatedly been said, hardly a dazzling way to revitalize a flagging local football scene. When going forward they were far too predictable in their approach and far too poor in their execution.
Certain players appear to be in the team on reputation or background rather than ability and these inept showings should surely once again cause those at the FAS to sit up in the middle of the night in a cold panic as to the state of both the technical and tactical development of their entire football program.
MALAYSIA STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Over the first half, Malaysia were hardly much better than their conservative opponents but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It was more poor execution.
The hosts at least tried to be positive in possession, although they were guilty of dallying on the ball for far too long at points. On numerous occasions they came awfully close to being picked off in dangerous positions with what still in part looks like a makeshift back three.
At other points their passing was simply far too loose and their runs off the ball poorly timed or executed.
With the changes at the break and the shock of realising that they were losing to a side they were expected to brush past, they returned after the interval with renewed vigour.
2017 SEA GAMES MEN’S FOOTBALL | 16TH AUGUST 2017
SINGAPORE [1-2] MALAYSIA pic.twitter.com/3sa8gkHV5B
— FA Malaysia (@FAM_Malaysia) August 16, 2017
Those key changes had a huge impact on their confidence and poise going forwards, and in the end we got a glimpse of just what this squad is capable of.
HOME ADVANTAGE COULD BE CRUCIAL
Although they were frequently distracted by an array of illuminations from an epic collection of glow-in-the-dark sticks, plus a Mexican Wave – the 32,000 supporters crammed into the Shah Alam certainly made quite a noise.
Contrast that to a couple of dozen scattered about the Singapore bay; bravely decked out in ‘Hard Core Fan’ shirts.
When Malaysia needed a lift, the crowd gave it to them.
Just as we saw on the opening day with the Myanmar supporters and to a lesser extent those backing Vietnam yesterday, when the fatigue of the schedule kicks in, it helps to have that extra lift. As the tournament progresses that could be something that really works in Malaysia’s favour.