It is true that the Japanese are much more experienced in higher level football. It is true that the Japanese Under 23 team are Asian Games Gold medalist. It is also true that our team are less achievement, less experienced , and less talented to even stand tall alongside them.But that shouldn’t give us the reason to be satisfied despite the lost. One might say that a 2-0 lost away is considered a normal scoreline for any team. Even not an achievement, it is still not an embarrassment. Should the team be credited for that?Surely yes, but be reminded that it is all down to Khairul Fahmi who fought a losing battle to keep a clean sheet and failed despite a good form.
MALAYSIAN GAME PLAN
Malaysia’s approach is somehow weird. They started the game switching between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 with Tamil Arasu dropping deep in between the wide midfielder to initiate the later formation. This supposed to provide a good balance between attack and defense. The two central midfielder often found themselves in plenty of space early on. They played defensive when needed to and provided cover for the front line in attack. The wide midfielder stayed wide and became the main form of attack for Malaysia. Mostly the ball was either played to the flanks or Izzaq Faris but all option failed miserably.
In defence, they tried to push Japanese players into their own half when in possession and when out of possession, they defended in number, using two rows of 4 spread out in their half. With 8 players in their own half and a deep defensive line, Malaysian’s defense should be, by right, secured tight with having extra defenders two sweep out any loose balls.However this provided less chance for Malaysia to switch from attack to defense effectively. The only chance for them to rebuild their attack is when Khairul Fahmi took a goal kick or from Japanese fouls.
JAPANESE GAME PLAN
The Japanese came with a much more brave tactic, proving that the are the mighty Asians. They played a very fluid 4-3-3 with both full back moving wide and up the pitch. The interplay between their wingers and full backs were their main form of attack. While their Full backs were busy moving forward, their skipper , defensive midfielder Yamamura Kazuya dropped deep between two center-backs to create a three man defend.
They rarely attack trough middle and exploited their the trickery and flairs of their wide players to score. They could change from side to side very effectively which made their attack very fluid. The Japanese also have enormous movement in the pitch and provided great support for each other.
Malaysia actually started the game pretty positive trying to penetrate to the midfield with arrays of passing and maintaining a high line to prevent Japanese player to further involved in the match. However their lack of creativity and lack of movement off the ball saw their attacking moves were easily read and intercepted by their opponent. When the Japanese had the ball, Malaysian tried to flood their own half by defending in numbers.
Defending In Numbers
From my observation, Malaysia is the only team that defend in number at back but still manage to leave enormous space for their opponents to exploit. They lacked the agility to pressure their opponents, and when they do press hard, they still leave and angle for the opponent to pass forward. This happened every single time Japanese were on attack. I couldn’t provide the interception rate by Malaysia, but i assure you, Malaysia rarely made any interception. This kept the Japanese in possession and danger to Malaysian back line.
The main problem is how the two rows of four was lined up. As usually used, four midfielder provided cover for their four defender. However, all the players was spread out wide. There were plenty of gap in between the Malaysian players. This created space for Japanese to dribble and easily available for a pass from their teammate.
It only took 50 seconds for Japan to create a clear cut chance which was saved heroically by Khairul Fahmi. The below figure shows the positioning of Malaysian player upon the attack. The red marker marks their Center Backs, the blue the Side Backs and the black their Center Midfielders.
Look how disorganized they are. How the Center Back was easily dragged to the side of the pitch. This happened when Mahali Jasuli went forward to press the Japanese winger and left space for Japanese full back to overlap. This made Muslim Ahmad had to move wide for cover and hence, it broke the formation.Supposedly , playing defensive 4-4-2, the right midfielder, Wan Zack Haikal should take on the winger . When mistakes happened, and the actual formation was broken, other players should quickly cover the area been broken. But notice how the two Central Midfielders stayed where they were and Fahdli Sas never looked to mark the only Japanese player in the box. They lost concentration in 5o seconds.
The First Goal
The Malaysian’s worst nightmare came to reality in the 10th minute.Great movement from the Blue Samurai saw Malaysian defender could only watch as the ball moved past Khairul Fahmi. It started from the ineffective pressing from the Malaysian side. The below figure shows the positioning of the midfielders prior to the goal.
Look how the 3 Malaysian midfielders (marked in Blue ) and the 3 Japanese Midfielders (marked in Red) is lined up. The Japanese is staying closer together forming a triangle in the midfield while Malaysian are forming a line. Only two midfielders was covering three opponents midfielders in the middle. While Zack Haikal could have moved to the middle to provide numerical balance in the middle of the pitch, he stayed wide and just watched the goal unfold.
Anoher mistake is from the Tamil Arasu and Izzaq duo, where they pressed very ineffectively . When you are pressing someone, you should try to prevent him from doing a forward pass. However, Izzaq and Arasu, despite two of them pressuring a single Japanese player, they still managed to give space for a forward pass. Only few quick touches were needed to break the Malaysian Midfield and expose the vulnerable defend.
Izzaq Is No Safee Sali, Wan Zack Haikal a Flop
What differs a good player and a great player? It is their mental stability to remain calm at any given moments. Malaysians today showed that they are just good players. Despite having conceded, and played a positive game before the goal, Malaysia reverted back to negative football. It is as if they defending a 1-0 lead. They never looked or even tried to threaten the Japanese defend.
Wan Zack Haikal stole the limelight for being absolutely ridiculous and wasteful in the midfield. He neve managed to provide anything , even in defense. He often tried too hard while he could have just simply passed the ball back to Gurusamy or Mahali.
Another flop would be Izzaq. He were left isolated and given a target man role in order to bypass the Japanese Midfield and initiate counter attack. A tactic that is very familiar in the Malaysian first team, deploying Safee Sali as a target man. But the young striker failed to even received the ball comfortably. Each and every long ball targeted Izzaq was miss controlled, intercepted and dispossessed. Hence the first half ended with 13 shot to none for Malaysia.
Second half resumed better for Malaysia. They attempted to move forward and tried to create chance to level the score. Defensive wise, they were much more agile and prepared particularly Gurusamy and Shukor Jusoh. They hunted in packs and maintained a good distance between defensive line and each other.They charged earlier and let the Japanese less time with the ball in the center area.
However, the Japanese side also did some changes that helped Malaysian to get a hold of the game. They changed to a 4-2-1-3 and both fullbacks remaining defensive. This Malaysian full backs to roam forward and provide width while the dew midfielder can move inwards to create chance on goal. The Japanese also played more carefully preserving their energy.
They off the ball movement for Malaysia improved for Malaysia.They could create strings of passes without being intercepted. With injured Wan Zack Haikal being replaced by Wan Kamaruddin, the right flank seems to look more lively.Mahali often linking up with Shukor and Wan Kamarudin to break free.
On the left, Fandi Othman moves inwards to play like a Support Striker and linking up well with Gurusamy and Zubir. In fact, Fandi Othman nearly scored but his failure to use his weaker foot wasted the best chance of the game for Malaysia. Voices of Malaysian player could be heard loudly indicating the increased level of communication, one that lacked in the first period.
Though Malaysia started to play better , their improvement is seen fairly inconsistent. This might be the result of tiredness of Malaysian player. They were chasing the for a whole half, these reduction in performance is very much predictable. Particularly, the Left Back, Zubir Azmi getting slower and slower in time. It is questionable how Ong Swee Kim failed to notice this, or did he ignored just the man.
And they paid the price for their inconsistent as Japan scored they vital second to secure all 3 point. It started when Japan exlpoited the space left by tiring Zubir Azmi who was pushing forward. Zubir was very slow to track back, but luckily Fadhli Shas came to rescue. He delayed the Japanese attack and managed to call all Malaysian player back into their own half to defend. However his silly mistake of nullifying the offside line to keep Kensuke Nagai onside caused the second goal.
Above picture shows the positioning of Malaysian defend prior to the second goal. Notice how Malaysia having 8 players in the penalty box couldn’t stop 5 Japanese attacking. The main source of error is the three players marked in red in the picture. Zubir,Fahdli Shas and Shukor Jusoh position in the box doing nothing. Though it was Fadhlis falut for putting Nagai onside, we should blame Shukor for placing himself wrongly in the box. With him standing very close to Fadhli Shas, it is an understandable reaction from Fadhli to drop a bit deep to maintain his distance with his midfielder.
The Malaysian team played a very different secind half and were better in after the period. They learned from the mistake and reacted accordingly. However their fitness level didnt permit them to stay consistent. But the question remains, will they learn anything from this match? They had plenty of friendlies abroad but still manage to show up unconvinced in Tosu. Playing amoung 22,000 fans who kept on chanting the whole 90minutes is hard, but great player don’t give excuse.
They were few notable performs to address. Gurusamy played good both as defensively and creating the attack. He placed good passes forward and did some great tackles to save the blush. Another good performance is from Fadhli Shas. Despite conceding two goals and being at fault at the second, Fadhli was a better defender compared to Azmi.He was prepared all the time and cleared many loose balls . He placed himself well to be at the right place at the right time.
Now the task remains the same, to win at Syria. They are at the top of the table by goal difference after winning 3-1 against Bahrain.Playing a tough match earlier on would be beneficial for Malaysian, as the lesson learned would be useful for 5 matches to come.