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Fascinating final in the offing

By Steve Darby

The AFF Suzuki Cup has caught the imagination of football fans throughout South-East Asia and I'm sure that both stadiums will have capacity crowds for the two-legged final with millions more watching on television.

The games will be fascinating with both teams playing a 4-4-2 formation with only slight variations tactically but big differences philosophically; it could be which player outshines his opponent on the night that is the key to success.

Individually, these are not the best Indonesian players I have seen, but it is certainly the best Indonesian team that I have seen. A big powerful athlete in goal (Markus Harison), two reliable full backs but in particular left back Mohammad Nasuha who has caught my eye as he not only gets forward but defends well. Both centre backs are strong and domineering and Hamka Hamzah can definitely play at a higher level.

The midfield has two steady players in Muhammad Ridwan, who dribbles well and cuts in allowing the right back to overlap, whilst Ahmad Bustomi anchors the midfield well enabling captain Firman Utina, their best player, to be creative and dominate the centre of the pitch. Wide left player Oktovianus Maniani is difficult to mark but I don't think even he knows what he is going to do next.

Up front they are spoilt for talent. The naturalisation of Cristain Gonzales from Uruguay has paid off in football terms as he is an intelligent player who can hold the ball up. Also the emergence of Dutch-born Irfan Bachdim, whose father is Indonesian, has meant they have a great combination in attack. It's also not bad having a player of the true quality of Bambang Pamungkas coming off the bench. The Indonesians have played an attacking "pressing" game and have to me been the best team in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Malaysia have almost sneaked into the final. They were heavily beaten by Indonesia in the first round, hung on for a 0-0 draw against Thailand after escaping a strong shout for a penalty and advanced to the final after two mature and disciplined performances against defending champions Vietnam in the last four.

Their team was ravaged by injuries to star players such as twins Aidil Zafuan and Zaquan Adha before the tournament but the young players (and it is a young team that has been allowed to mature and develop) have risen to the occasion.

Malaysia play with two wide men and that puts massive workload on the likes of Safiq Raman in midfield. But to me the key players if Malaysia are to win are the two strikers Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan. They stay up front and work as a team and when they break, they go forward at pace and are prepared to take defenders on.

I am particularly impressed with Norshahrul as five years ago I released him from Perak as he was overweight and not keen on training. Someone, somewhere, has turned this player around and he has now added hard work to his undoubted talent. He has shown that players can mature and develop. Maybe the exclusion of foreigners has worked for Malaysia and allowed young players to play regularly in the league and get the confidence they need.

The football brain says a win for Indonesia as they are strong and well organised, but if Malaysia can keep defending as well as they have been and score on the breakaway a shock result could be on the cards.

(Steve Darby has coaching experience in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand at club and national level and is currently technical director of the Football Association of Thailand).