Back to the grind

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOTBALL - SHEBBY SINGH foot­ball@thes­

HIf any­thing, Malaysia can use the friendly against Aus­tralia to­day to reignite some swag­ger and in­tro­duce new faces. ow time has flown by! Not too long ago ... well, ac­tu­ally, make that a very long time ago that we de­feated Aus­tralia in 1992. The soli­tary goal vic­tory was achieved through a P. Ravin­dran goal in the group stage of the In­de­pen­dence Cup in Jakarta, In­done­sia. The player known as “Kinta Ex­press” was one of the quick­est wingers we pro­duced and de­spite be­ing dimu­ni­tive, had a very big heart.

Back then in Jakarta, the Malaysian national team, man­aged by Ken wor­den from Aus­tralia, were not to be frowned upon as they went on to win that in­vi­ta­tional tour­na­ment by beat­ing South Korea 2-1 in the fi­nal.

That said, it was dif­fer­ent times with the Aus­tralia team in 1992, which in­cluded, ar­guably, re­gional favourites and not well known Premier League Soc­ceroos we see nowa­days (Tim Cahill and Mark Sch­warzer). Nine­teen years later since that Aus­tralia v Malaysia match, and thanks to the global reach of the Pre­mier­ship in Eng­land, most of us can ac­tu­ally name five (or more) fa­mous Soc­ceroos in an in­stant.

we take on Aus­tralia in Can­berra this evening with an­other pacy winger in the shape of S. Ku­nalan but cer­tainly the cir­cum­stances have changed dras­ti­cally. The Aus­tralians, vet­er­ans of the last two world Cups, have earned global ac­knowl­edge­ment since then. we have only em­barked on a tran­si­tional jour­ney in the last cou­ple of years.

By way of FIFA rank­ings, it’s Aus­tralia (19th spot) v Malaysia (147th) in this in­ter­na­tional friendly.

Don’t rub your eyes, the gap be­tween both sides is a huge one! But in a one-off friendly, any­thing can hap­pen.

For the Soc­ceroos, who lead Group D with six points in their world Cup qual­i­fy­ing group, this friendly match against team Hari­mau will be taken se­ri­ously. As re­ported in the Aus­tralian me­dia, it will be used to gauge the fit­ness and depth of Hol­ger osieck’s team (with­out star names like Cahill, Sch­warzer, Harry Kewell, and Brett Emer­ton).

Aus­tralia al­ready have their eyes set on a third world Cup ap­pear­ance in a row and Brazil 2014 looks a fine bet if osieck’s side can dis­patch the likes of Saudi Ara­bia, Thai­land and oman in their Asian qual­i­fy­ing group.

In Malaysia’s case, this match is a high pro­file tonic to lift the team. It will be a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence for the Hari­mau boys, no doubt, but it cer­tainly seems strange to see some changes in the national team set up.

The skip­per Safiq Rahim has been dropped which is a haz­ard of the job but the in­clu­sion of de­fender Norhafiz Za­mani Mis­bah sug­gests re­gres­sion. It cer­tainly looks like coach Datuk K Ra­jagopal has backed down in the face of crit­i­cism by in­clud­ing a vet­eran player.

De­spite hav­ing Hari­mau new­com­ers like Joseph Kal­lang Tie and UKM stu­dent K. Reuben in the squad in Can­berra, I would have ex­pected a stronger stand from the coach but is he hav­ing his hand forced by the fans af­ter the ag­gre­gate loss at the hands of Sin­ga­pore in the world Cup 2nd Round qual­i­fy­ing stage in July?

There are ups and downs when you coach a young team and un­for­tu­nately the down came at a cru­cial mo­ment.

I am cer­tain the Premier League teams (Arse­nal, Liver­pool and Chelsea) com­ing to town at that time, be­fore the clash against the Lions dis­rupted the prepa­ra­tion and con­fi­dence of the national play­ers. ob­vi­ously, we sac­ri­ficed one for the other but that is water un­der the bridge now and we hope to make it as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble for the

Aussies who no doubt, have termed this as a “ nice and easy “ warm up game be­fore they host oman. There is no dan­ger to the Aussie qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign as they are ex­pected to and will win Group D.

Else­where, in South Amer­ica, the wC 2014 qualifiers kick off with Copa Amer­ica win­ners Uruguay tak­ing on Bo­livia at home.

with Luis Suarez in red hot form and Edin­son Ca­vani too get­ting among the goals, it could well be three points at the Cen­te­nario although the Bo­li­vians will de­fend stoutly.

The Ar­gen­tini­ans too are at home to Chile and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see Leo Messi in­spire his team since tak­ing over the cap­taincy. He comes across as quiet but since be­ing ap­pointed cap­tain, he has been seen to be talk­ing a lot more on the pitch.

He cer­tainly has the stature to be the leader on the pitch and quite per­haps this de­ci­sion could be the best ever made since Diego Maradona was cap­tain. The host, Brazil will be con­tent with friendly matches as they build a for­mi­da­ble team to win the world Cup on home soil in 2014. n Catch Shebby Singh on Mon­day Night Ver­dict ev­ery Mon­day at 8pm on ESPN, and his in­sight and views dur­ing ESPN’s live match pre­sen­ta­tion of the Bar­clays Premier League. The Aus­tralia v Malaysia in­ter­na­tional friendly will be screened live on Astro Arena (Ch 801) live at 5pm to­day.

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