Football: Amri ready for Lions' den

Veteran forward, 35, eager to get his first win as Malaysia captain against S'pore tomorrow

Malaysia captain, Amri Yahyah (front row, second from right) training with his team-mates at the Bishan Stadium ahead of tomorrow's Causeway Challenge.
Malaysia captain, Amri Yahyah (front row, second from right) training with his team-mates at the Bishan Stadium ahead of tomorrow's Causeway Challenge.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

At 35, Malaysian footballer Amri Yahyah has had a long, illustrious career which includes titles for club and country.

The sudden retirement of national captain Safiq Rahim in July led to another personal honour for the veteran forward as national coach Ong Kim Swee appointed Amri his on-field lieutenant.

It is a responsibility the Johor Darul Takzim forward is relishing as he prepares to lead the Tigers out tomorrow at the National Stadium against bitter rivals Singapore for the Causeway Challenge. Curiously, Amri has never found the net against the Lions even though he has scored 13 times for his country.

"Maybe Friday will be my lucky day," he told The Straits Times yesterday before the team's training session at Bishan Stadium.

"But I don't really care as long as we win. Anyway, I contribute in other ways."

Indeed he has. The last time both countries faced each other was in the final group game of the 2014 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup. Hosts Singapore had one foot in the semi-finals with the score at 1-1 until Amri won a stoppage-time penalty. Malaysia proceeding to knock the defending champions out, winning 3-1.



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He added: "We showed a lot of spirit that day and never gave up. We need to find that fighting spirit again, not just against Singapore but for the Suzuki Cup."

Malaysia, ranked 158th in the world, are in Group B of the Nov 19-Dec 17 Suzuki Cup alongside co-hosts Myanmar (world No. 153), Vietnam (No. 141) and a qualifier.

Instilling such resolve and confidence has not been an easy task for Ong. He has had to deal with a vacuum created by the retirements of playmaker Safiq, as well as senior national players S. Kunanlan, Aidil Zafuan and Amirulhadi Zainal.

Malaysia's recent struggles - there were three 6-0 defeats (by Oman and twice by Palestine) and a 10-0 hammering by the United Arab Emirates last year - has cast a pall over the Tigers.

A dearth of attacking options has meant that Ong is likely to partner Amri with 30-year-old Norshahrul Idlan Talaha up front. Norshahrul's last international cap was in 2014 but Ong defended his selection.

"Both of them are very experienced and they will provide guidance for the younger boys who are new to the team," he said.

Norshahrul, who cut short a family holiday in Thailand to join the squad, added: "I still have a lot to offer and I want to show the coach I'm good enough for the national team."

Ong's 25-man squad contains five new names to the international fold. Only defender Shahrom Kalam, 31, Norshahrul and Amri are over 30. Not that Amri, sporting silver locks, has trouble keeping up with the new generation.

The five-time Malaysia Super League winner, who was part of the 2010 AFF Cup-winning side, does extra training sessions on his own to maintain his fitness and still retains that initial burst of pace to trouble defenders.

His first game as skipper was a 3-0 defeat away to Indonesia last month and he is desperate to make amends.

He said: "We need the younger players to step up and prove they deserve to wear the jersey. They must show they are hungry, even in a friendly. I want to win every game."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Amri ready for Lions' den'. Print Edition | Subscribe