Safiq Rahim says Malaysia must be positive vs. Lebanon in ACQ
Malaysia captain Safiq Rahim believes the only way for the new-look national team can change their flagging fortunes is by delivering a resounding performance against Lebanon in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on Tuesday night.
Safiq, who is making his comeback after a year-long international retirement, has been empowered by new national coach Nelo Vingada to lead the team out at Larkin Stadium, his Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) home ground.
"This is a new challenge for me, and I will play my part to the best of my abilities after being handed this responsibility," Safiq said.
"We are a new team, with new responsibilities, and we are of course looking to produce the right result. We must be positive in our approach, as we do not want to disappoint all the fans out there too."
As they face the Group B leaders, Malaysia are desperate to rebuild their reputation after a failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign followed by a group-stage exit in last November's AFF Suzuki Cup.
In that tournament, Malaysia were missing the services of Safiq, and S. Kunanlan, Amirulhadi Zainal and Aidil Zafuan Razak, who are all from three-time defending champions, JDT.
But since the March appointment of the Crown Prince of Johor -- JDT's owner -- as Football Association of Malaysia president, the JDT quartet have changed their minds about playing international football.
Even so, the Lebanese are still likely to be formidable opponents, even without missing JDT striker Mohammed Ghaddar. Vingada hinted that Malaysia will treat their opponents with caution.
"We need to defend well because it is the first step to attacking well. We will attack based on the situation, so it could be a fast attack or a counter-attack," he said.
"Lebanon have players who are playing abroad so they have international experience. But it is not important to understand Lebanon, it is important for us to understand ourselves."
Besides the quality passing range of Safiq, Vingada could opt to start with Azamuddin Akil and Syazwan Zainon on the flanks to trouble Lebanon with their off-the-ball movement, and direct approach.
Up front, JDT forward Ahmad Hazwan Bakri could be entrusted to lead the firing line, assisted by either Amri Yahyah or Safee Sali.
Lebanon are ranked 20 rungs higher than Malaysia at 135th on the FIFA rankings. Even without Ghaddar, they have other Malaysian-based players in Moataz Bellah and Abou Bakr El Mel to deal with.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.