Thailand were crowned champions of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday after claiming a 4-3 aggregate win over Malaysia in the final.
Despite entering Saturday’s return encounter at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium with a comfortable two-goal cushion from the first leg, it looked as though the Thais had thrown it all away after allowing Malaysia to lead 2-0 at halftime.
First, the hosts were awarded a controversial penalty when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha went down inside the box under Suttinun Phuk-hom’s challenge despite appearing to be little contact between the two.
It was talismanic playmaker Safiq that stepped up to the spot for the Malaysians and, just like he had done on three previous occasions in the tournament, showed no signs of nerves as he sent Kawin Thamsatchanan the wrong way to open the scoring.
The War Elephants did have a number of chances to pull level with Peerapat Notechaiya sending a lovely curling effort back off the woodwork in the 13th minute, before Kroekrit Thaweekarn wasted a trio of chances after finding himself in good positions.
Just before the break, the hosts doubled their lead on the night when Norshahrul did well to hold up play down the right before floating a cross to the back post, where Indra Putra Mahayuddin proceeded to capitalise on a rare moment of indecision by Kawin and nodded the ball into the back of the net.
Remarkably, Harimau Malaya then scored a third – and edged ahead 3-2 on aggregate – two minutes before the hour mark when Safiq Rahim curled a sublime freekick past Kawin’s despairing dive, after Norshahrul had been hauled down outside the box by Suttinun.
It could – and perhaps should – have been 4-0 on the night four minutes later when Amri Yahyah cut the ball back from the right into the path of Safee Sali, but, despite having plenty of the goal to aim for, he somehow sent his shot straight into Indra Putra.
That miss came back to haunt Dollah Salleh’s charges with eight minutes remaining when the Thais themselves were awarded a freekick in a promising situation.
Sarach Yooyen lined up the set-piece and fired a lovely effort towards goal and although his shot drew a fantastic save from Farizal Marlias, Charyl Chappuis reacted quickest to the rebound and slotted into the bottom corner.
With the aggregate scores now level at 3-3, it was the Thais who were headed for the title due to the away goals rule.
But in the 87th minute, they went on to make sure of the triumph after hitting forward on the counter; Adisak Kraisorn laying the ball off to Chanathip Songkrasin, who steadied himself before lashing a rocket of a shot past Farizal into the back of the net.
Moments later, the final whistle went and it was Thailand who were left celebrating their fourth AFF title – equalling Singapore’s record in the process – and their first since 2002.
Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Afif Amiruddin (Muslim Ahmad 69’), Zubir Azmi, Badhri Radzi, Safiq Rahim, Azamuddin Akil (Safee Sali 13’), Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Gary Robbat 78’), Amri Yahyah, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.
Thailand: Kawin Thamsatchanan, Narubodin Weerawatnodom, Suttinun Phuk-hom, Tanaboon Kesarat, Peerapat Notechaiya, Sarach Yooyen, Charyl Chappuis, Chanathip Songkrasin, Prakit Deeprom (Sarawut Masuk 63’), Kroekrit Thaweekarn (Adul Lahso 89’), Adisak Kraisorn.