Socceroos breaking new ground in Melaka
As long as the 'cow grass' doesn't get wet, Pablo and Michael are confident of a win for the Socceroos v Syria in Melaka03 October 2017 | Pablo Bateson
The Socceroos World Cup qualification play-off game versus Syria on Thursday evening 8.30pm local time (11.30pm AEDT) will provide many exciting milestones.
With a new home base and lifestyle in Thailand, I will be taking a relatively short flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on match day morning. This will be followed by a taxi transfer taking less than two hours to Melaka (previously known as Malacca).
Joining me in the southern city will be Michael Ong, whom I first met in February 2008 at the beginning of what would ultimately become my 47 consecutive World Cup qualifiers of our Socceroos.
In the meet up of fans at the Exchange Hotel near Docklands (Etihad) Stadium before the match against Qatar, we quickly ‘clicked’ as fellow passionate supporters of the national team. A month later en route to Kunming for a qualifier versus China, Michael took care of arrangements for our attendance at a lead up friendly with Singapore.
A dual Malaysian-Australian citizen and now living in Melbourne with his young son Nathan, the game on Thursday is somewhat of a home coming for this Penang raised man. He has relatives in Melaka and a close friend working with the local professional football club.
“Australia is playing in the country that I came from. It’s also the first time in five decades that we will be playing in Malaysia. Plus, a spot in the FIFA World Cup is at stake, hence this game meaning a lot to me personally”.
Australia has not played a full international in Malaysia since November 1967, and has never faced the 'Qasioun Eagles' of Syria.
There is ongoing conjecture about any persistence or not from coach Ange Postecoglou for either a back three or four defensive formation.
Vulnerability to opposition counter attacking has been a feature for the Socceroos over the past two years of World Cup qualifiers. Syrian striker Omar Khribin is in devastating form for his club Al Hilal as they stream roll towards the Asian Champions League final.
Australia will need to show more poise and composure in the final third and on goal to ensure victory against the well organised and disciplined Syrian side.
My expectations are that the Socceroos will produce a good result at the Hang Jebat Stadium to help set things up for completion of the progression task by the end of the second leg at home in Sydney next Tuesday (10 October).
Michael is expecting a tough game. Syria's home games in the last group qualifying stage were based in Melaka, meaning they will be familiar with the environment. The conditions will also be tough due to the humidity.
“But I think we should be good enough for a 2-1 win which will set up nicely for the return leg in Sydney” Michael said.
How does he think the pitch conditions will be at the stadium?
“Much depends on the weather! They use ‘cow grass' in Malaysia, a different type of surface than our boys will be used to. I hope it doesn't rain as the pitch will become muddy if it does.”
For match day, the weather forecast is an 80 per cent chance of thunderstorms with a maximum of 31 degrees and minimum of 24 degrees, light winds and moderate to high humidity levels.
Based upon previous recent home games of Syria hosted in Melaka, only a small crowd is expected. In terms of numbers, our expats in Malaysia and the near region are likely to represent most of the Aussie support. Up to 150 mostly independent fans will travel from Australia together with one commercial tour group led by Kevin Pollard.
The Socceroos presence in Melaka is extending to Tim Cahill and some other players making an appearance at the city's U-16 youth tournament final. Building connections and relationships across the Asian football community can only strengthen with such initiatives.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to enjoy much sightseeing of UNESCO World Heritage Site city. However, a visit to Malaysian Super League club Melaka United has been arranged for the morning after match day.
The Socceroos will leave Melaka for Kuala Lumpur immediately after the games for their charter flight overnight back to Sydney. Qantas helped with this arrangement which could prove crucial with recovery for the second leg only five days later.
Stay tuned for my post-game report after the first leg and my travel back to Thailand as an Aussie expat thriving in Asia.
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