Suzuki Cup: No fuss, no fear

Suzuki Cup: No fuss, no fear
LionsXII defenders Safuwan Baharudin (left) and Baihakki Khaizan at a training session at Selayang Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

My boys can handle your 55,000 fans at Kallang.

Malaysia's national coach Dollah Salleh insists he is not losing any sleep over his team's Nov 29 date with Causeway rivals Singapore in their AFF Suzuki Cup Group B clash at the National Stadium.

The tasty derby will be both teams' third and final group game, and Malaysia's only one played at the venue.

Singapore will play all three of their group games at the National Stadium but, due to concerns over the sturdiness of the pitch there, Malaysia will play their earlier group games at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The other two teams in the group are Thailand and Myanmar.

When asked if he was worried his players might have trouble handling what is likely to be a white-hot atmosphere at Kallang, Dollah told The New Paper in a phone interview: "To me, the 55,000 fans waiting for us at Kallang is not a problem.

"We will have some Malaysian fans there too and they will make themselves heard, so I'm not worried."

FAMILIAR

The 51-year-old, who took over as coach of the Tigers in June, is certainly no stranger to the Causeway Derby and knows all about the Kallang cauldron he will be leading his team into.

As a player, Dollah was a deadly striker and scored 48 goals in 97 appearances for his country.

He also took part in several encounters against Singapore, including a memorable clash in the Merdeka Cup in 1993, when he scored the winning goal.

On paper, Dollah reckons there isn't too much separating his boys and the Lions, and the team who have more hunger will win.

"There's really not much difference between the two teams," said Dollah matter-of-factly.

"We've played each other so many times, and the Singapore squad are made up of many LionsXII players, who know Malaysian football as well as we know them.

"A Singapore-Malaysia match is always special and both sets of players will give all they have.

"It's pretty much equal and it will depend on who wants it more on the day."

Dollah, who has coached three different teams to the prestigious Malaysia Cup, admitted that his side have not had the best preparation for the Suzuki Cup.

He has had less than two weeks to whip his charges into shape, as players from Pahang and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) joined the squad only last Tuesday.

The two teams contested the Malaysia Cup final on Nov 1 and account for 11 of Malaysia's provisional 26-man squad.

Dollah said that time is not on his side as the Tigers prepare for their Suzuki Cup opener against Myanmar on Sunday.

"The main problem is that we've had only a short time to train together," he lamented.

"As a team, we haven't gelled yet. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

The coach is also worried about the lack of goals in his team.

Since he took over, Malaysia have failed to score in friendly matches against Indonesia (lost 0-2) and Syria (lost 0-3), and squeezed in just one in a 4-1 loss to Tajikistan.

They did, however, beat regional minnows Cambodia 4-1 in September.

Dollah said that he has "no choice" but to pick three JDT strikers - Amri Yahyah, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Safee Sali - who have struggled to nail down a starting place at club level because of the presence of dazzling Argentinian imports Luciano Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Diaz.

The three Malaysian forwards combined for a measly six league goals last season, but the Tigers trainer insisted that they are still the best individual attackers the country have.

Besides the lack of firepower, Dollah also has fitness worries to contend with, with key central midfielder and set-piece specialist Safiq Rahim, and speedy winger R Gopinathan struggling with knee injuries.

Despite his problems, the coach believes his players will deliver when the tournament begins.

NOT EASY

"It's not going to be easy, I know," said Dollah. "But we are focused on collecting three points in our first game against Myanmar. That's the key for us.

"If we can beat Myanmar, it will motivate our players and lift them to do even more in the tournament.

"And I believe in my experienced players."


This article was first published on November 16, 2014.
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