On their Asian tour exactly a year ago, Arsenal strolled to a 4-0 win over Malaysia in a pre-season friendly at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. One year on, it was the hosts who almost stole a famous victory over Arsenal on Tuesday.
Arsenal were missing more than a dozen of players who were either recuperating from injuries or given an extended break, but to be perfectly honest, the score line flattered Arsenal a little bit, with Malaysia looking sharp in every department.
The 13-time English champions were made to work for the win and it was the Malaysians who drew first blood through ATM FA’s Azmi Muslim, whose 30-yard shot was probably the best goal of his career. The goal came deep into injury time during the first period, with Arsenal players back peddling, seemingly inviting the left sided player to shoot.
Malaysia matched Arsenal everywhere on the park and had twice as many attempts on goal as Arsenal at one stage during the game.
Malaysia head coach Datuk K. Rajagobal had indicated that this encounter against the European giants was a “perfect build-up” to November’s AFF Suzuki Cup, where they will be defending their Asean title.
Rajagobal called for his players to prove their worth as the defending Suzuki Cup winners and to push Arsenal to their limits, and his players duly responded.
Aidil Zafuan was an absolute rock in the heart of defence and he hardly put a foot wrong all night. Farizal Marlias showed why he could give Khairul Fahmi Che Mat a run of his money in the fight for the number one jersey at the Suzuki Cup with an almost flawless display despite conceding two goals right at the end to Thomas Eisfield (86th minute) and Chuks Aneke (90th).
Safiq Rahim led by example in midfield with his precise passing and was singled out for mention alongside Aidil, Farizal and S Kunalan by Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger.
Should the Suzuki Cup be played right now, I would have to admit that Malaysia will not have much difficulty retaining their crown. This of course, is based on their performance against one of the giants of English football.
Young players are coming through the ranks and in Gary Steven Robbat who plays for Harimau Muda in the Great Eastern Yeo’s S-League,Malaysia have found themselves yet another gem. The tough tackling midfielder was praised by both coaches during the post-match press conference.
Malaysia will take on English Champions Manchester City next Monday and it will be another test of the team’s character as they pit themselves against one of the best teams in modern football.
Malaysia is in Group B of the Suzuki Cup alongside Singapore, Indonesia and the runners up of the qualification round. They will open their campaign against traditional rivals Singapore on 25 November 2012 at Bukit Jalil.
Here are some photos from the match on Tuesday night.