Following Malaysia’s 3-1 friendly win over Cambodia on Monday, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks out five key points as we build towards AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.
It started out so brightly but it was not to be for Keisuke Honda and Cambodia in the Japanese legend’s first game in the dugout.
Having taken an 18th-minute lead courtesy of a stunning strike by Soeuy Visal, much to the delight of the 50,000-strong home crowd at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, the Cambodians were eventually pegged back as goals from Shahrul Saad, Syazwan Andik and Shahrel Fikri Fauzi handed Malaysia the win.
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) September 10, 2018
So, what can both sides take away from the clash with the AFF Suzuki Cup just a couple of months away?
1) No winning start for Honda but he’s already left his mark
So, Honda’s managerial debut may have ended in defeat but it is obvious that the ex-Japan international has plenty of ideas how he wants his side to play and – especially in the first half – Cambodia pulled off his game plan to perfection.
There was the high-intensity style of play – both defensively and offensively – that is now synonymous with Japanese football, but the hosts also attempted to play a quick pass-and-move game when in possession.
It worked at times and, on other occasions, they did give the ball away but this is something that takes time to perfect and what better time to start practising then in friendlies ahead of a major tournament.
This is no longer the “helter-skelter” football that Southeast Asian teams – especially those of Cambodia’s ilk – have tended to serve up in the past.
There was a methodology to it and, when they get it right, the Angkor Warriors could become one of the region’s more-attractive sides.
2) The new blood is ready to step up for Harimau Malaya
Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe continues to introduce new blood with Mahalli Jasuli and Zaquan Adha the only two outfielders in the current squad with over 20 caps to their names.
Winning just his 17th cap on Monday and at the age of 25, Shahrul was the most-experienced member of Malaysia’s starting XI apart from the aforementioned duo.
19-year-old Akhyar Rashid showed why he remains one of Malaysia’s most-promising talents, while 22-year-old Syazwan Andik overcame a nervy start to perform well, with both youngsters part of the Under-23 side that recently reached the Round of 16 at the Asian Games.
Congrats Rawilson Batuil & Mohd Azzizan Nordin on their national team debut. Solid display from our boys. Lets hope for more action in the future.
— SabahRhinos (@sabahrhinos) September 10, 2018
Meanwhile, there were also first caps for Sabah duo Rawilson Betuil and Azzizan Nordin, as Tan continues to prove that it will continue to be business as usual regardless of whether or not he has established stars like Safiq Rahim, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and S. Kunanlan to call upon.
3) Malaysia stint has served Cambodian stars well
Interestingly, Malaysia Super League outfit Terengganu had one representative on the field on Monday and it came in the form of Cambodia anchorman Thierry Chantha Bin.
The 27-year-old may be the last man standing out of the four Cambodians that earned moves to the MSL at the start of the year, but based on his and Keo Sokpheng’s displays, it has already stood Cambodian football in good stead.
There was an air of confidence and authority in the way Chantha Bin looked to boss the midfield and he shackled Nazmi Faiz to the point that the one-time wonderkid was hauled off in the 58th minute having failed to make much of an impact.
Meanwhile, Sokpheng – who memorably scored the first goal of the 2018 MSL campaign before being released by PKNP FC in mid-season – looked stronger than he has before and even had the better of the experienced Mahalli on a number of occasions.
4) A forgotten man is back with a vengeance
Having previously been Malaysia’ first choice between the posts, Khairul Fahmi has had a tough couple of years but looks to be enjoying a new lease of life at Melaka United.
And, on Monday, he showed that he still has plenty to offer at international level with a fine performance after being given the nod ahead of long-time competitor Farizal Marlias.
Just after the visitors had forced their way back in the contest and Cambodia were looking to respond in the second half, Fahmi produced a string of fine saves – including twice keeping out goal-bound efforts from Sokpheng – to keep the opponents at bay.
Khairul Fahmi doing his chances of reclaiming the 🇲🇾 No. 1 spot no harm at all. Has made a series of fine saves and could just prove to be the difference between a win and a loss against Cambodia tonight.
— Gabe Tan (@gabetan13) September 10, 2018
Farizal may still be a contender for Tan’s No. 1 for the Suzuki Cup but Fahmi would have done his chances no harm with a standout performance against Cambodia.
5) Remember these names – Shahrel Fikri Fauzi and Sin Kakada
There would have been a fair share of raised eyebrows when Shahrel Fikri Fauzi – with only half a season of top-flight experience in Malaysia – earned a move to Thai League 1 outfit Nakhon Ratchasima back in June.
The 23-year-old netted 20 goals in all competition last year and nine this season when he received the call from Thailand, but he has not exactly been the standout name one would have expected to get the nod as an ASEAN import in the region’s top league.
Yet, based on his dazzling 32-minute cameo on Monday, he could just go on to become Malaysia’s main man in attack for the next decade.
Another one of note for 🇲🇾 Malaysia has been Thailand-based Shahrel Fikri Fauzi. Seals the win for Malaysia with a clinical finish and has been the difference with a goal and 2 assists since coming on in the 58th minute.
— Gabe Tan (@gabetan13) September 10, 2018
His bullet header from a Syazwan freekick led to Shahrul’s equaliser, before the Sabah-born forward produced a brilliant run and cross for his side’s second.
Then, in injury-time, Shahrel Fikri received possession on the edge of the box, effortlessly glided past Visal and clinically squeezed his shot under Sou Yaty to prove he has all the necessary weapons to be a genuine match-winner.
Meanwhile, for Cambodia, one would have assumed star winger Chan Vathanaka – absent from Honda’s inaugural squad – had been on the field, such was the lively display of the man donning his No. 11 jersey for the evening.
Still only 18, Sin Kakada showed no signs of being overawed by the occasion and his wing prowess provided Cambodia with a constant threat down the right, and was the main reason why Malaysia left-back Syazwan had such a testing opening 45.
There is still plenty of development left in his game but an attacking boasting him, Vathanaka, Sokpheng and Prak Mony Udom could leave Cambodians fans licking their lips in anticipation.
Photo credit: Football Federation of Cambodia