SINGAPORE – Malaysia booked the final slot in the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup after defeating Singapore 3-1 in their last Group B match which ended in a nail-biting finish at the National Stadium, Singapore Sports Hub.
Thailand had already qualified in the group while Vietnam and the Philippines made the cut in Group A. Singapore and Vietnam are co-hosts of this edition of the prestigious regional tournament.
In Saturday night’s match, both teams started out cautiously as soon as referee Al Kaf Ahmed Abu Bakar Said got play underway.
The Harimau Malaya (national squad) nearly went ahead in the 42nd minute but Mohd Safee Mohd Sali’s shot bounced of the upright with Singapore keeper Hassan Abdullah Sunny clearly beaten.
The first half ended goalless although both teams kept going after each other’s throats.
On resumption, Malaysia showed they were more hungry for victory and it paid dividends when veteran striker Mohd Safee’s piledriver from within the box in the 61st minute sailed into the net.
Seeing the ‘Tigers’ tame the ‘Lions’, the 1,000-odd Malaysian fans in the stadium broke out in rapturous joy.
Singapore thought they could come back into the game but the Malaysian players kept pressing on to increase the advantage and had the upperhand most of the time.
However, luck seemed not to be on Malaysia’s side when the Lions, who needed just a draw to advance to the semifinals found it in the 83rd minute when Mohammad Khairul Amri Mohammad Kamal pounced on the ball which Malaysian keeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat had prevented from going in.
Just when it all seemed over for coach Dollah Salleh’s boys, Malaysia were awarded a penalty when Mohd Amri Yahyah was brought down in the box in the 91st minute. Safiq Rahim made no mistake.
The drama did not end there. With the clock ticking down, the Singaporeans threw in everything they had, including their goalkeeper going up to help when they received a free kick seconds before the added four minutes of injury time was to end.
But it backfired when substitute striker Indra Putra Mahayuddin pounced on the rebound to send home the ball from nearly the halfway mark into a gaping goal and the neighbours packing.
In another group B match at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Thailand maintained their unbeaten run when they defeated Myanmar 2-0.
The Elephant Warriors goals were netted by Tanaboon Kesarat (12th min) and Prakit Deeporm (83rd min).
In the semifinals to be played early next month, Malaysia will meet Group A champions Vietnam while Thailand will meet the runners-up, the Philippines.
The first leg of the semifinals will be played on Dec 6 and 7 and the return leg on Dec 10 and 11. – Bernama