Malaysia travel to the Rajamangala Stadium on Wednesday to take on Thailand with a huge task on their hands. After failing to find the back of the net in the first leg of the semifinal despite creating a boatload of clear-cut opportunities, the Malaysians find themselves on the brink of an exit.
While most experts have written them off, the numbers sing a different song altogether. FOX Sports Asia looks at the key stats that indicate that the visitors could secure a historic upset and move into the final of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup.
2205 passes completed
Harimau Malaya have completed a whopping 2205 passes in five games this tournament, far and away the most in the competition. They average 65% of the possession in matches, which is astounding, to say the least. The more of the ball they have, the less of it Thailand will see and it will also ensure the likes of Sanrawat Dechmitr and Supachai Jaided are kept quiet and away from the action.
Tan Cheng Hoe’s side play some beautiful football, there are no two ways about it. They like to keep the ball on the ground, move it at pace through Akram Mahinan, who has had a fantastic campaign, and Syamer Kutty Abba, feed the wingers and then let their strikers go about their business.
To an extent, that tactic worked in the first leg. Their wing-play was quite exemplary and they often found themselves in threatening positions near the byline. They attempted as many as 33 crosses on the night, with many of them reaching Norshahrul Idlan and Zaquan Adha.
Thailand enjoy sitting deep and playing a narrow back four. This allows Malaysia to exploit spaces on the outside of the full-backs and if they can do that as they did in the first leg, they will surely see some success. However, for that to happen, Norshahrul and Zaquan, as well as Safawi Rasid would need to find their shooting boots.
The presence of Pansa Hemviboon in the centre of the Thai defence would eliminate the aerial option, but Malaysia are not the kind of team that pumps long balls into the box in the first place. They whip balls in to the feet of their strikers, something Thailand are not comfortable dealing with.
Malaysia have attempted a whopping 83 crosses from open play in the tournament thus far, and althougn their accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, they clearly see the wide areas as a strength.
Thailand have faced 27 shots on goal
Another number that Tan could possibly look at with a gleam in his eye is the shots Thailand have conceded on goal – 27; a clear indication that the War Elephants do not have the most sturdy defence. In fact, at the Bukit Jalil, Thailand faced 23 shots in total.
While only 2 were on target, that was more due to Malaysia’s profligacy in front of goal than the War Elephants’ solidity at the back. Mohamadou Sumareh and Safawi were effective in running at the full backs, finding spaces on the edge of the box and getting shots away and they need more of that in the second leg if they are to come away with a victory.