BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Fresh from their 4-1 friendly win over Sri Lanka on Friday, Malaysia (FIFA ranking 171) will now head into their next friendly match, this time at home against a more formidable opponent.
On Tuesday, they will face Kyrgyz Republic (FIFA ranking 91), who are set to make an appearance in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the first time in the two team's history that they will be playing each other at the senior level.
The encounter is part of the two sides' preparations; with the hosts set to take part in the 2018 AFF Championship later this year, while the visitors are fine-tuning their squad ahead of the continental tournament.
Where and when will the match be played
Hang Jebat Stadium in Melaka. Match to kick off at 2045 (Malaysian time)
Both teams' forms coming into the match
The five most recent matches of Tan Cheng Hoe's charges have all been friendly encounters, almost all against similar or lower-ranked teams, and they won four of them. Their only match against a higher-ranked side, away to Chinese Taipei in September, ended in a 2-0 defeat.
Aleksandr Krestinin's side meanwhile have not been playing in as many friendly matches, and two of their five most recent matches were Asian Cup qualification encounters. They won both qualifiers, against Myanmar and India, while the three friendlies ended in one win, one draw and one defeat.
Interestingly, since 2017 the White Falcons have played four times against Southeast Asian sides; and never lost in a single encounter. They were held to a 2-2 away draw against Myanmar in October last year, but later beat Indonesia, Brunei and Myanmar.
Kyrgyz Republic winning the Aceh World Solidarity Tsunami Cup in 2017. Photo by Goal Indonesia/Adit
Since he took over as head coach, Tan's Malaysia have recorded four wins, one draw and two defeats, but his attacking and midfield options are likely to be limited on Tuesday, due to recent injuries and other concerns. Midfielders Akram Mahinan, Rawilson Batuil and Nor Hakim Hassan had been injured and left out of the Sri Lanka encounter, while the sole foreign-based squad member, Shahrel Fikri Fauzi was revealed to have been seriously injured after the match.
Malaysia U-19's Akhyar Rashid and Nik Akif Nik Mat are in Tan's squad, but he may be reluctant to hand them key roles in the match, out of fear of risking the junior side's chances in the 2018 AFC U-19 Championship, which kicks off in Indonesia later this week.
Thankfully, debutant forward Mohamadou Sumareh hit the ground running against Sri Lanka with his brace, while his club teammate Norshahrul Idlan Talaha found his first international goal in four years, and the forward may trouble the visitors' defence.
Sumareh. Photo from Malaysian FA
One got the sense that the defenders fielded on Friday were not the best combination, considering that Shahrul Saad was not even fielded, and this Tuesday Tan may field the best available combination that he has.
Krestinin has held his post since 2014 and knows his pool of players very well. His success of taking the Central Asian side to their first ever Asian Cup has further cemented his reputation in the country.
He should be set to field his best side, judging by the call-up list, save for a few changes. His squad for Tuesday feature mostly players from Kyrgyz champions FC Dordoi, where he is also head coach.
Kyrgyz Republic training in Malaysia ahead of the Tuesday friendly
Kyrgyzstani-German midfielder Edgar Bernhardt should captain the team on Tuesday, although another player with a similar heritage; star forward Vitalij Lux has not joined the squad due to an injury.
The home fans would be glad to also know that two of their regular international goal scorers this year; Anton Zemlianukhin and Mirlan Murzaev have not been called up for this encounter. However, forward Bekzhan Sagynbaev has scored two international goals this year, and should be guarded closely by Tan's defenders.
Kyrgyz Republic also feature one naturalised player on their squad; 32-year old centre back Daniel Tagoe.
More interestingly, they have one player; Bakhtiyar Duishobekov who play in the Malaysia Super League, for Kelantan, and his knowledge on Malaysian players will most likely be used to brief their coaching staff.
19-year old centre back Aizar Akmatov meanwhile has played against Malaysia U-23 in the recent Asian Games, a match won by the Malaysians.
After the match
Malaysia will play in their last pre-AFF Championship friendly match, at home to Maldives on November 3, while Kyrgyz Republic have lined up an away friendly encounter against Japan on November 20.
The match will likely end in a draw, or a win to the visitors, who sit 80 places above the hosts in the FIFA rankings. Tan is still tinkering with his best starting eleven and beset by injuries, while Kyrgyz Republic are still buoyed by their success at the continental level, and not to mention the presence of foreign player-turned-spy Bakhtiyar.
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