UAE Team Training in Malaysia. Image Credit: Courtesy: UAE FA

Abu Dhabi: Malaysia are set to mount a determined rearguard action when they meet the UAE in Thursday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier in Abu Dhabi, a sneak preview of their formation suggests.

In a preview of the encounter, EspnFC.com suggested a a new three-man defence supported by wing-backs will be implemented by the visitors at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium. This is as a result of Dollah Salleh’s men earning only one point from their opening two Group A qualifiers, the last of which was a 6-0 thrashing by Palestine.

The tactical analysis of Malaysia conducted by EspnFc.com makes a strong case for the defence to avoid a heavy beating at the hands of Mahdi Ali’s side, who lie 98 places above their opponents in the Fifa rankings at 70.

It said: “Six-goal maulings in Oman and against Palestine have persuaded Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh to consider something alien to his football DNA – defensive football. In the weekend’s goalless draw against Bangladesh, former striker Dollah tried a three-man central defence, supported by S. Kunanlan and Zubir Azmi as wing-backs.

“The result was a far tighter display than seen in recent matches. And with attacking play during the recent five-match winless spell at a premium, not too much was sacrificed going forward.”

Malaysia are currently bottom of the five-team pool, while the UAE, who have played a game less, are third on three points.

Palestine lead the way on goal difference from second-placed Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Timor-Leste, whom the UAE beat 1-0 away in their opening game in neutral Malaysia in June, lie fourth.

The website went on to warn Malaysia of the danger posed by the UAE’s star striker Ali Mabkhout. It said: “UAE’s fine run to the semi-finals at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup belied their Fifa world ranking of 70. But any team who have a striker scoring at a rate of better than two goals every three games will have a chance of producing a positive result.

“Twenty-four-year-old Al Jazira striker, Ali Mabkhout, won the Golden Boot in Australia. Twenty-five international goals in 37 appearances — including five at the Asian Cup — mark him as a special talent.”

The website added: “In Malaysia’s favour is that UAE’s results since the AFC Cup have been less than spectacular. A 3-0 loss in Korea followed by 1-0 wins at Timor-Leste [World Cup qualifier] and Myanmar [friendly] suggest they have lost a little of their potency. Even so, they present a formidable barrier in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night.”

After the Malaysia match, the UAE will head to Palestine for another qualifier on September 8. If successful in progressing to Russia 2018, it would be only the second time the Whites have reached the global showpiece after they competed at the 1990 tournament in Italy.