BY OOI KIN FAI Follow onTwitter
If you're a fan searching for goals as part of your excitement, this may well be one fixture you would want to avoid. With zero goals scored in the last three meetings between Malaysia and Philippines, Wednesday's encounter at the Rizal Memorial Stadium could well follow the same pattern.
The last time Datuk Ong Kim Swee's men took to the pitch, it culminated in Malaysia's exit from the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup with a defeat to Myanmar. This international friendly match away to Philippines represents a chance to Ong and his boys to start afresh.
Match-ups between the two countries isn't limited to international level as clubs from both countries have played each other in recent weeks with the results favouring teams from Malaysia. Johor Darul Ta'zimmanaged to beat Global FC quite handsomely while Felda United held Ceres Negros to a creditable draw on away soil.
The squad that Ong has called-up this time is largely the same group of players that flunk in the AFF Championship. A month long stint with English Championship side, Queens Park Rangers may have given Ong some new insights and that may come into view in this match.
Injuries toNazirulNaimshould mean a starting position forMelakaUnited'sKhairJones at left back. The 27-year-old lacks international experience but possess good physical qualities that can be of use against what is expected to be a strong Philippines side that looks to use their physical advantage at every opportunity.
Since his move to PKNS FC, Safee Salihas not only regain playing time but should also regain his starting role in national colours. The evergreen forward has only scored two goals this season for his new team but is looking sharper by the minute and his nousat this level will be crucial for Malaysia's hopes to gain valuable FIFA ranking points.
Much will depend on the core of players from the most in-form team in the Malaysian football right now - Kedah. They are likely to supply at least three players in the starting line-up and with all of them playing particularly on the right hand side, it's a combination and understanding that Ong will be looking to put to good use against Philippines.
Rizal Ghazali is consistently one of the best players for Kedah with Baddrol Bakhtiar in good goal-scoring form this season, but all eyes will be on Syazwan Zainon. The nippy winger has gone from strength to strength with his intelligent runs and looks to have added much needed composure to his game. If Syazwan can maintain his performance, it is likely that most of the creative force for Malaysia will go through him.
Philippines will face Nepal on the 28thMarch in the Asian Cup qualfiers and coach Thomas Dooley will be using this match against Malaysia to gauge his players ahead that crucial fixture. Despite hosting the group stage of the 2016 AFF Championship, they bowed out of the tournament without registering a single win to their account.
Dooley can rely on the experience gained by Mark Hartmann in his first season with Malaysian team, Sarawak. The forward has already scored seven goals thus far for his new team and will be expected to provide valuable insights into the style and characteristics of Malaysian players to his coach.
The Younghusband brothers - Phil and James, together with Mike Ott are also the other attacking players that Ong will have to ensure that his players keep a close eye on. Dooley has instilled in his team a resoluteness that makes them hard to beat and goals for or against are at a premium when it comes to his team.
This match will probably not go down in the annals of history as one of the best international matches ever played. However, it is still interesting to see which team recovers best from recent disappointment and comes out with renewed vigourto take a morale-boosting win.