Thailand and Malaysia ready to serve up a semi-final thriller


Three-time winners Thailand and defending champions Malaysia clash for a prized spot in the AFF Suzuki Cup final at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium on Thursday with both coaches predicting an attacking affair with goals.

Thailand eked out a 1-1 draw against Malaysia in the first leg of the semi-final in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday but coach Winfried Schafer has dismissed talk of his team playing for the 0-0 draw that would see them safely into their sixth final in nine editions of the Asean Football Championship on the away goal rule.

Schafer has shaped a team that plays a fast, exciting brand of football and he does not want to sacrifice those principles on the altar of success at any cost.

“Tomorrow we go on the field for three points (a win), we will not play for 0-0. We have to play for a goal, it is very important. We cannot sit back and defend for 90 minutes and hope to keep a clean sheet,” said Schafer, who won the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon.

Schafer will not be on the bench for the match after being sent to the stands by the referee during the first leg and while admitting that would cause a few headaches, he said that similar situations in the past had worked out well.

“We have a problem but I think my team don’t need me on the bench tomorrow,” he said. “We have a good spirit and good teamwork and I think we have a good chance to win.

“My second coach (Mano Polking) has all the instructions for tomorrow and the players know what they have to do. I will find a good place to watch the match. I have never lost a match when I was in the stands, I have won all matches.”

Thailand came under a lot of pressure in the first half in Kuala Lumpur, with Malaysia striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha feeding off long balls, and Schafer said that his side would have to cut off that supply line.

“All long balls from the keeper and defenders into our area were difficult,” he said. “We have to stop balls being hit 50-60 metres (down the park).”

Razor-sharp Teerasil Dangda, whose equaliser with a bullet header took him joint top of the goalscoring charts with Singapore’s Shahril Ishak on four strikes, did not take part in training on Tuesday but Schafer dispelled any injury fears.

“It was just a case of rest and regeneration,” he said. “He has been training hard so it was decided to give him a rest.”

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal, who led the team to their first AFF Suzuki Cup title two years ago, said that beating Thailand in their own backyard was not a mission impossible and a lot would depend on how badly the players wanted a victory.

“It is going to be a tough match but nothing is impossible and if players want to do it, want it badly (then we can do it),” he said. “It is now on the players, the players know they have to play their very best and raise the level from the first match and go enjoy the game. We will see what happens tomorrow.”

He added that there would be no “fear factor” as Malaysia try to reverse a trend that has seen them lose their previous three AFF Suzuki Cup encounters with Thailand in Bangkok and Phuket.

“We are optimistic, also we have nothing to lose – I do not think my players will have any fear (of playing Thailand in Bangkok), we have had experience playing them in a friendly match here (recently),” he said.

Safee Sali, who has been troubled by a hamstring injury, came on as a substitute after 75 minutes of the first leg and should be fit enough to start on Thursday if Rajagobal reverts to a two-man strike force.

Midfielder Khyril Muhymeen Zambri is also training again after sitting out Sunday’s game with a groin strain.

Rajagobal felt that Malaysia should have won the match in Kuala Lumpur, pointing to late chances for Safee and Norshahrul, and has tried to instill a sense of belief in the players that they can reach the final for a second consecutive time.

“(They need to take the field) wanting to go to the final, wanting to win the match. The players have to feel it, they have to have that kind of positive thinking,” he said.

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