S’pore U23s 0 M’sia U23s 2 | 4-1-4-1 beats 4-2-3-1

Posted on January 27, 2011


This entry might be a little dated, but what the heck. On Monday evening, the Singapore Olympic Team hosted their Malaysian counterparts in a friendly at Jalan Besar, and lost 2-0. Despite having two “100 per cent” chances – as their coach Raddy Avramovic said after the game – in the opening 15 minutes, Singapore had a very poor first half overall. They improved in the second half with options from the bench (11 changes in all, compared to Malaysia’s 5), but their causeway rivals still saw the game through comfortably enough.

The Starting Lineups

Singapore started in their newly-standardised 4-2-3-1 formation. Safuwan Baharudin and Afiq Yunos – who partnered each other in the centre of defence when these sides last met in 2009 (we lost 3-0 that time) – started again in the backline. Zulfahmi Arifin and Izzdin Shafiq took up the two centre spots in midfield, with the left-footed Zulfahmi playing on the right side and the right-footed Izzdin playing on the left, probably so they would be in a better angle to find wide men on the wings with forward passes. The prodigal Shahfiq Ghani played just off main striker Haniff Sadique.

Malaysia, meanwhile, set up shop in a 4-1-4-1 position. Gary Robbat sat in between defence and a slightly advanced four-man midfield, while Syahrul Azwari led the attacking line alone.

There were not a lot of tactical observations to be made in this game, as both sides did not make any significant changes to their shape throughout the 90 minutes, but the shape in which the two teams started in made a difference to their overall performance, and ultimately the result. Singapore, in particular, had a few flaws with its formation.

A Disjointed Attack

Raddy explained after the game that Haniff was supposed to be a striker who “could bring the two stoppers together” allowing “our fast players to come in from the side”. In other words, Haniff was supposed to be the battering ram, troubling the Malaysian centre-backs enough so that our wingers Eugene Luo (right) and Faris Ramli (left) could make inward runs behind the defence. Unfortunately, Haniff had a very poor game.

Haniff appeared to be unable to sprint – he attempted to close down the centre defenders when they were in possession a couple of times before he looked absolutely knackered – and lost out on a couple of aerial battles. He also failed to connect with a low Shahfiq cross in what was one of the two good chances early on. His performance was so bad, Raddy hauled him off after half an hour for the more mobile Syafiq Zainal. But it wasn’t just the poor performance of Haniff that meant our attack was limp. The positioning of Shahfiq Ghani also contributed to this.

Shahfiq, a technically gifted creator, was meant to be the central playmaker behind the main striker. Curiously though, many times when Singapore had possession, he would be on the shoulder of a Malaysian centre half, almost like a second striker. This is odd, because when the 18-year-old played in a similar role for the Young Lions in the S.League last year, he tended to drop deep and pick the ball up from midfield or drift into the left channel. With this in mind, I believe it was Raddy’s instruction to get him to assume an advanced position.

Too much space for the M’sians

Shahfiq’s high position also meant that the midfield duo of Zulfahmi and Izzdin had trouble in midfield. Firstly, they essentially faced a 3 v 2 scenario, because Malaysia had a spare man in central midfield whenever Shahfiq did not drop deep to help. Secondly, the huge gap between our two midfielders and two central attackers meant that the excellent Gary Robbat could easily dictate the tempo of the game, making interceptions and then having the space to play the ball forwards to any of four options.

It has to be said that Zulfahmi had a good game for Singapore, playing clever passes to Faris and even setting Eugene up for a 1 v 1 (which was the other ‘100 per cent chance’). But Malaysia’s right and left fullbacks were quick and had very good games, so we could not penetrate through the flanks either.

Defensively, we did not cope to well either. Whenever Irfan Fazail – the more attacking-minded of Malaysia’s two advanced central midfielders – broke forward behind Zulfahmi and Izzdin, Afiq Yunos was drawn out from centre defence. This was the case for the first goal, where Irfan shuffled across Afiq to his left before firing his shot from the edge of the area.

Our fullbacks were also poor at their pressing – a hallmark of recent Singapore national teams – and as a result the widemen of Malaysia had a lot of space on the flanks. This space meant they had greater room to charge forward and get behind the Singapore fullbacks and this was the scenario for the second goal, conceded moments before the break.

Irfan, again moving into the space behind our midfielders, played a simple pass behind our rightback Abdil Qaiyyim. Malaysia’s left winger (Fandi Othman, wearing the No 17, no less) nipped in behind and toepoked the ball goalwards for Syahrul to tap in. 2-0. Game, set and match.


Singapore played much better in the second half, with Raihan Rahman adding energy and bite in central midfield, Safirul Sulaiman impressing with his range of passing (and left foot – Singapore seems to be producing quality left-footed players all of a sudden) and Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and Ignatius Ang looking lively on the flanks. The Malaysians, however, looked comfortable seeing the game out, with the win practically sealed in the opening 45 minutes.

Both Raddy and Malaysia head coach Ong Kim Swee pointed out two factors which helped the Harimau Muda gain the result. First, they have had more time preparing together as a team, and second, they were very disciplined. The second point was translated in how the Malaysians worked  for each other, instead of trying to fulfil their individual roles – what Singapore was doing.

Let’s hope the Singapore team gains more fluidity by the time they face Yemen in the Olympic Qualifiers first-leg away match against Yemen on 23 February.

Posted in: Friendly, Lions, Under 23s