Malaysia are through to the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup after beating Vietnam 4-2 in Thursday’s semi-final second leg to claim a 5-4 aggregate victory.
Having fallen to a 2-1 loss at the Shah Alam Stadium in Sunday’s opening encounter, the odds were firmly stacked against Harimau Malaya given they had conceded two vital away goals, and were also coming up against a team that had conceded just thrice at home in the tournament.
However, they were handed the perfect chance to draw first blood in the third minute when a perfectly-weighted pass by Norshahrul Idlan Talaha found Indra Putra Mahayuddin, who had his heels clipped by Que Ngoc Hai just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Safiq Rahim stepped up and fired home the penalty that had been awarded but the referee called for a retake due to encroachment by the Malaysian players, although all that did was delay the inevitable as the Johor Darul Ta’zim playmaker went the same direction and found the bottom corner once more.
The hosts then had a couple of half-chances to get back into the contest with Le Cong Vinh destined to meet Nguyen Van Quyet’s right-wing cross at the far post until S. Kunanlan made a vital clearance in the 14th minute, before Ngoc Hai had a low drive blocked after the resultant corner had been inadequately dealt with by Indra Putra’s weak header.
But just a minute later, Malaysia remarkably edged further ahead after a searching pass from Amri Yahyah made its way in between Dinh Tien Thanh and Nguyen Van Bien and found Norshahrul, who capitalised on some poor defending – and indecisive goalkeeping – to lift the ball over the onrushing Tran Nguyen Manh and fire into an unguarded net.
Vietnam were then awarded a penalty of their own in the 23rd minute and Cong Vinh made no mistake in sending Farizal Marlias the wrong way, after he had been illegally prevented from meeting a corner by Amri inside the area.
Nonetheless, just as it looked like the hosts had regained the momentum, the Malaysians netted the all-important third away goal a minute before the half-hour mark; Indra Putra running onto Badhri Radzi’s excellent diagonal pass and floating in a cross that Tien Thanh – in a bid to make an interception – could only connect with his thigh and send it looping over Nguyen Manh and into the back of his own net.
Incredibly, it was 4-1 two minutes before halftime when Badhri’s corner was nodded by Fadhli Shas into the path of Shukor Adan, who found himself completely unmarked eight yards out and glanced a header in off the foot of the post, and it looked as though the contest was all but over.
To their credit, the Vietnamese were determined to force their way back into the contest after halftime but were just unable to find a way through, with the likes of Shukor and Kunanlan all doing brilliant jobs to keep their opponents at bay.
In the end, the hosts were able to reduce the deficit further when Cong Vinh broke free inside the box in the 79th minute and sent an emphatic drive into the top corner, but it proved to be little more than a consolation as it was Harimau Malaya who were marching on to the final at the final whistle.
Dollah Salleh’s charges are now 180 minutes away from claiming their second Suzuki Cup title following their maiden triumph in 2010, although it will be far from easy coming up against a Thailand side that were regarded by many as favourites to win it even before the tournament began.
Vietnam: Tran Nguyen Manh, Que Ngoc Hai, Dinh Tien Thanh, Le Phuoc Tu, Nguyen Van Bien, Nguyen Huy Hung, Ngo Hoang Thinh (Le Tan Tai 37’, Nguyen Hai Anh 50’), Pham Thanh Luong, Nguyen Van Quyet, Vo Huy Toan (Mac Hong Quan 46’), Le Cong Vinh.
Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Fadhli Shas, Zubir Azmi, Azamuddin Akil, Badhri Radzi (Baddrol Bakhtiar 78’), Safiq Rahim, Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Muslim Ahmad 90’), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Afif Amiruddin 87’), Amri Yahyah.